We’ll keep on campaigning for our hospitals
Published on: 30 Jan 2014
NO more broken promises – that was the message from a packed public meeting to NHS bosses who want to change their plans for Cossham Hospital.
And it is echoed by campaigners who are continuing to battle for the long-awaited community hospital at Frenchay.
Concerns are growing that in less than four months' time too many patients from Downend and the whole of the former Kingswood council area will be faced with difficult journeys to the new Southmead Hospital Bristol for treatment.
People who are admitted to hospital will have to remain at Southmead, or go into privately-run nursing homes, until they are well enough to go home.
Frenchay Hospital is due to shut at the end of May, with all inpatient and many outpatient services moving to the new superhospital.
Some outpatient clinics have already moved to Cossham, which reopened a year ago after a major revamp. But the planned minor injuries unit at the hospital is now in doubt.
A 68-bed community hospital for Frenchay was agreed in 2005 and again in 2010, but last year the South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) dropped the plans, which included outpatient appointments and diagnostic tests as well as rehabilitation beds.
Instead, it now wants an outside provider to set up a “health and social care centre”, which could provide rehab beds paid for by the NHS, on the hospital site by 2016.
The CCG's latest proposal for Frenchay, and its plan for the rehab beds to be at Elgar House, Southmead, for at least two years until the new facility at Frenchay is open, were both referred by South Gloucestershire councillors to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for a final decision.
Downend Voice can reveal that Mr Hunt has asked experts from outside the Department of Health and known as the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, to review the matter and report back to him with their initial advice by February 21.
Barbara Harris, of Downend, spokeswoman for the Save Frenchay Community Hospital Group, which has submitted extensive evidence to the panel, said: “This will mean, or we hope it will mean, that the entire provision locally will be independently scrutinised by experts. We will not be dependent on the South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group presenting proposals 'on a wing and a prayer'.”
Mrs Harris said that a community hospital had been included in the original Bristol Health Services Plan however, over the decade in which she and others have been campaigning, the case for Frenchay had been undermined by the building of the privately-run Emersons Green Treatment Centre and the U-turn over proposals to shut Cossham.
However, neither facility had beds for patients who need further professional NHS nursing care after their acute treatment. Cossham has only maternity inpatient provision and Emersons Green is for elective care, she said.
Nor would the nursing home proposed by the CCG for Frenchay be suitable, as there would be no diagnostics available on site, Mrs Harris added.
“We will continue to fight for safe, proper care for the residents of South Gloucestershire and Bristol until we get the community hospital we so badly need. Without a fight, South Gloucestershire will have no acute or intermediate care beds within its boundary. This is not acceptable,” she said.
Meanwhile, the campaign group for Cossham Hospital has been revived following the CCG's announcement that it is reconsidering the promised minor injuries unit (MIU).
Cossham reopened with maternity, outpatients and diagnostics in January 2013 and an MIU, similar to the one in Yate, was due to follow.
But the CCG says that not enough people use the Yate MIU, with many preferring to go straight to A&E – which, from May, will be at Southmead.
It now intends to open an assessment centre for frail elderly patients at Cossham.
These proposed changes prompted more than 100 people to turn up to a South Gloucestershire Council Health Scrutiny Committee meeting to tackle CCG representatives.
Tina Dean, chairwoman of South Gloucestershire Over-50s Forum, said it was a nightmare to get to Southmead, especially for those who did not have a car. Some people had no alternative but to pay for taxis at £20 to £30 each way.
“The powers that be don't seem to be taking into account the difficulties that there are for people who have to travel to Southmead. It is a major, major problem,” she said.
Ben Bennett, programme director for the CCG, said the proposal was to try out the new rapid assessment service for frail older people at Frenchay and move it to Cossham in May. Its aim is to help reduce the number of elderly people admitted to hospital by acting earlier to help those at risk.
Mr Bennett stressed that this did not mean the hospital would definitely not have a minor injuries unit. It was not an either/or situation, he said. A decision would be taken after consultation.
He also revealed that it had just been decided that the out-of-hours GP service, currently at Frenchay, would operate out of Cossham from May.
The CCG said it would report back to the committee on March 12 on how and when it would consult people over the MIU.
Councillor Terry Walker said: “I believe that what was agreed should be sacrosanct. A minor injuries unit was promised and that is what we want.”