Whitehaven News column – 6th November 2014

Just answer the questions…
Every organization, politician or individual makes mistakes – there’s no doubt about this – nobody is immune to it. Those who believe they are immune are kidding themselves, those who claim never to have made a mistake aren’t telling the truth.
So I was surprised – genuinely – by the response from the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust recently when it told the media that my attempts to publically ask questions of it (on your behalf) amounted to “personal attacks and intimidation.”
So, some context. The Trust’s Medical Director, Dr Jeremy Rushmer told Border TV that centralizing consultant led maternity services at Carlisle was an “attractive option” before separately floating the prospect of moving maternity services from the West Cumberland altogether and locating them in Cockermouth.
Imagine my reaction…
Given that  an ‘independent’ review of maternity services  has been announced, Dr Rushmer’s comments clearly prejudice such a review – particularly as other medics from the Trust with entirely separate and different opinions are forbidden from speaking out. The Cockermouth ruse, on the other hand, is a stupid red-herring: it’s game-playing of the highest order. The only reason such a concept has been introduced to the debate is for the purpose of forcing a false compromise upon the community. Imagine the magnanimous platitude “Look, we’ve taken your consultant led maternity services and a thousand expectant mothers a year now have to travel on a poor road to Carlisle, but, hey, at least we didn’t move the whole thing to Cockermouth…” The Cockermouth option is a fraud, a dupe, a sham and at it’s heart, it illustrates a contemptible culture within the Trust.
In light of these developments, I asked the Trust to commit to four actions. First, postpone the maternity services review. Second, commit to a lay-persons review so that mothers with experience of the service can have their voices heard. Third, publically grant a staff amnesty so that all medics can speak out about hospital services. Fourth, explain why Dr Rushmer should continue in his post now that his comments have clearly compromised any ‘independent’ review of maternity services.
Reasonable questions. Unfortunately, these reasonable questions were ignored by the Trust who opted instead to call my questions “personal attacks and intimidation”. I’ve since asked the Trust to withdraw its baseless accusation and for it to answer the questions I have asked. I await a reply.
It didn’t have to be like this. The Trust could have opted to seek positive engagement with the community, its elected representatives and the local hospital services campaign group. A meeting here, a meeting there doesn’t cut it.
Is it too late? Has public confidence in the Trust now been shattered? The public has always responded constructively to compelling cases for change – whether with regard to the WCH or any other issue – but the Trust seems incapable of doing this.
The next few weeks will be critical for the Trust. Is it able to listen to the public or will its tin corporate ear precipitate its collapse?
Will sanity prevail?

Thank heavens for the CCG’s Dr. David Rodgers. His intervention in the WCH debate – on behalf of the body that actually commissions the services that the hospital provides – took to the airwaves (Border again) to point out that the CCG wants consultant led maternity services to continue at the WCH on “safety grounds” and that the Trust was guilty of saying one thing to the public and other to staff when it comes to this. Dr. Rodgers described this as “just not acceptable.” He’s right. We should all get behind him. 

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