Chaos in the Community?

NHS Plans to close Community Hospitals are reckless and shambolic

As regular readers of Grey Power will know, the North Staffs Pensioners’ Convention has grave concerns about the NHS ‘My Care, My Way—Home First’ initiative to close Community Hospital beds in North Staffordshire.  Community Hospitals mostly provide rehabilitation for people recovering from a spell in an acute hospital or those requiring support so they do not need to be admitted in the first place.

Under ‘My Care, My Way—Home First’ NHS managers say people will be looked after in their own homes – we question whether there will be the staff, resources or systems in place to make sure people are safe.  It has become clear that this strategy is not about better care as NHS managers claim - it is driven by cost cutting at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Also, this is partly about privatising NHS care – we believe that, as Community Hospitals close, the NHS will be commissioning beds in private sector nursing homes where the care is cheaper but often inferior to the NHS. 

From the start of the process in the early spring of 2015, the way the NHS managers have gone about making changes and communicating with the public has been shambolic to the point of farce.  In the last two months the programme of bed closures has been speeded up so that, even though proper consultation has still not taken place, beds at Cheadle, Bradwell and Haywood hospitals are closed or due for closure.  This is in addition to the wards that have already been closed at Longton.  If all these changes are carried through we will have gone from 250 Community Hospital beds in July 2015 to just 82 by Christmas this year.

This pace of change could have disastrous consequences.  Our Committee decided that it is essential that we do everything we can to raise the alarm.  We postponed the planned speakers for the October public meeting so that we could focus on this matter.  Over 80 people attended and Marcus Warnes, Accountable Officer of the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, was left in no doubt about the strength and depth of public feeling in our area.

At the end of the meeting we read out the Open Letter to the two Clinical Commissioning Groups.  The letter was signed by MPs Paul Farrelly, Ruth Smeeth, Tristram Hunt and Rob Flello, our Chairwoman Janet Smallwood, Jenny Harvey (Unison Branch Secretary Staffordshire Community Health), Malcolm Swann (Secretary Unison Retired Members Staffordshire Community Health), Councillor Joan Bell (Chair of Stoke-on-Trent City Council's Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee) and Ian Syme (Co-ordinator North Staffs Healthwatch Campaign).

The text of the Open Letter is reproduced at the end of this article.

On the day after our public meeting over 40 members of the Convention with loud hailer and posters made our way to the One Smithfield building in Hanley where the CCG was meeting, and presented their members with the Open Letter.

On Thursday 20th October Stoke-on-Trent City Council voted unanimously for the following motion:

“This City Council notes the proposed closure of Community Beds at Longton Cottage, Cheadle and Bradwell Hospitals and the devastating effect this will have on the most vulnerable residents in this City.  We call on the CCG to put a hold on these plans until meaningful consultation has taken place and a full impact assessment has been carried out.”

We are co-operating with others in the community who share our concerns, we will be sending the Open Letter to NHS England and those at Regional NHS level and anybody else we can think of.  In the longer term, we will be gathering evidence of people’s experiences of care in the community to form a report that will inform our future campaigning.

There is near unanimous opposition in North Staffordshire to the current strategy as it stands.  If the NHS ignores this and ploughs on with these plans there will be grave consequences for democracy and for those who depend on the NHS for their care.