Whitehaven News column – 2nd October 2014

Turning Point
Monday night’s mass meeting of local people at the Recreation Ground to campaign for services at the West Cumberland Hospital was incredibly important – thank you to all of those who came along. We should see it as a turning point – as should the hospital trust.
Thank you too to everyone from the NHS who was there. The immediate lesson? The decision makers in the Trust are not listening to the staff at the WCH and action must be taken to address this right now. The NHS is primarily made up of people, not hospitals or buildings. Like any group of people, NHS workers will be happy to make changes if they agree with what they are being asked to do and if they understand the reasons for the changes. Without doubt, this is not the case at the WCH and the number of medical professionals at Monday’s meeting demonstrates this. The Trust has repeatedly told me that staff engagement is a priority, but Monday night showed that there’s a world of difference between meaningful engagement and going through the motions with a public relations exercise.
Anyone who has read this column since the paper’s re-launch will know that I spend more time on NHS issues than any other and that the government has a huge amount to answer for regarding the difficulties we now find ourselves in, but the Trust is guilty of not only failing to listen to local medics, patients and the public, but refusing to listen. Rumors abound that certain staff were forbidden from attending Monday’s meeting – a truly disastrous approach – and this now needs to change.
In the run-up to the conclusion of the Closer to Home consultation process before 2010, we secured a deal with the local trust and other local health bodies. That deal proposed changes at the WCH, in return for the provision of a brand new acute district general hospital, surrounded by new community hospitals providing new services in Millom, Keswick, Maryport and elsewhere. In addition to this, the WCH was to become a specialist centre for certain services. This deal had widespread support from clinicians and the public and this deal has been reneged upon. Don’t forget, the first act of the new government was to cancel the new build project at the WCH and abolish those bodies with whom we had made the deal – it was a hard, difficult job to get the money back (and I’m still seeking more). It’s as simple as this: we want the hospital we were promised and I’ll continue to do everything I can to deliver that.
The process leading up to that agreement revealed many tensions within the local medical community and they remain to this day. My suspicion is that local commissioners want to provide more services at the WCH than the very Trust that runs the hospital wants to. To solve this, we need transparency and so I am today calling upon the Trust and the CCG to commit to specific actions:
Firstly, the hospital Trust should allow all employees to speak out without fear of retribution.
Secondly, the CCG and the trust should agree to meet with campaigners on a regular basis to define those services that the WCH will provide and, as with the deal on Closer to Home, a media representative should be allowed to attend these meetings.

Finally, none of us should lose sight of the fact that the new West Cumberland Hospital is a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop and provide the specific kind of services a community like ours needs. Central to this of course, is consultant led maternity services. This is non-negotiable, and as everyone who has ever looked at the issue knows, removing such a service from the WCH is not and never can be safe.

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