Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Residents barred from Townlands meeting

ANGRY residents have demanded that health chiefs keep their promise to install 18 beds at the

ANGRY residents have demanded that health chiefs keep their promise to install 18 beds at the new Townlands Hospital in Henley.

More than 200 people attended a public meeting on Tuesday night to grill members of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group on their plans for the new £16million “health campus”.

They were told:

• The 18 beds promised in the original plans will not be installed, despite money being available.

• No contract has been signed with the operators of a care home being built on the site to provide five beds as an alternative.

• A rapid access care unit, which will replace the beds, will be open only three days a week.

Townlands currently has 14 beds on Peppard ward that have an occupancy rate of 95 to 100 per cent.

The ward is due to close on November 1 when the new hospital is completed so there will then be no beds at all until the care home is built.

Henley GPs criticised the commissioning group’s plans and called for the promised 18 beds to be installed.

Almost every member of the public raised their hands when South Oxfordshire district councillor Joan Bland asked for a show of support for the beds.

The commissioning group plans to “buy” five beds at the Orders of St John care home.

These will be “step up/step down” beds for patients who need care on site or those coming out of acute hospitals such at the Royal Berkshire in Reading.

The rest will be replaced by the new unit, which will treat patients on a next-day basis as most will not need an overnight stay.

About 100 people were locked out of the meeting after the hall reached capacity more than 10 minutes before the start. The crowds complained as town clerk Mike Kennedy closed the doors with comments such as “What about real Henley people?” and “It’s our democratic right to go to this meeting”.

Police were on patrol around the hall as those left outside took to Facebook and Twitter to complain, branding the decision not to let them in as undemocratic.

John Loader said: “More than 10,000 people in the town and they choose a meeting place that takes less than 200. So much for democracy in action!”

Town councillor Kellie Hinton said: “Can’t believe a town councillor was turned away from a Townlands Steering Group meeting at the town hall because of numbers!”

Mr Kennedy blamed the restriction on numbers on fire safety regulations.

This was the latest problem in the consultation process organised by the commissioning group in which residents have been unable to access the webpage and a questionnaire on the proposals was branded “not fit for purpose.”

The consultation closes at midnight on Monday and the commissioning group has promised that all responses will be looked at before the plans for the hospital are agreed.

More than 1,800 people have signed the Henley Standard’s Save Our Beds petition in just a week.

The public meeting was organised by the Townlands Steering Group and chaired by town councillor and group chairman Ian Reissmann.

Councillor Reissmann was met with ironic laughter from the public after urging them to “keep this respectful”.

The speakers included Peter McGrane, clinical director at Oxfordshire Health, and three members of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Hannah Mills, Sonning Common GP Andrew Burnett and John Jackson, director of social and community services at Oxfordshire County Council.

Mr McGrane said that Peppard ward had 14 beds which were full most of the time. Of those patients, six or seven were usually from Henley.

Mr McGrane said: “Our hope is that when we apply an ambulatory approach to Henley the necessity for bed care drops. We anticipate that five to eight beds is the figure that we require to deal with step up and step down care.

“We noticed in a similar model in Witney there was a drop of five per cent of patients referred and in an area without this unit there was an increase of five-and-a-half per cent. The 10 per cent swing shows that as a model it does work.”

Dr Burnett, locality clinical director for the South-East and urgent care lead for the commissioning group, said: “We just don’t think we are going to need that many beds. We think it’s much better to put our energy into developing these really good services which aren’t currently available at Townlands Hospital.

“There will be a lot of services at the new hospital which patients currently have to travel to other hospitals for, like transfusions and infusions or chemotherapy.

“The number of people affected by the beds debate is very small and the new services will affect a lot of people.

“This is a consultation process and it’s important that your voices are heard. The calculations on beds has some uncertainty but my opinion is that it’s fair.”

Mr McGrane said patients would stop being admitted to Peppard ward from the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford about a month before the ward closed.

Those patients would instead go to another community hospital, which for Henley patients would be Wallingford.

Mr Jackson also spoke about social care, which is provided by the county council, and will be offered in conjunction with the new model.

During a question and answer session, members of the public demanded that the promised beds are delivered.

They were supported by Henley GPs Chris Langley and Philip Unwin, who said they were “not convinced” by plans for the new rapid care unit in order for most patients to be treated at home.

Dr Langley, of the Bell Surgery, said: “Dr Unwin and I have been involved in the project for many years but haven’t been involved in the consultation. There are many areas we like and support and areas where we have concerns.

“We are really pleased and excited by the new rapid access care unit but it’s not the same as the emergency multidisciplinary model in Witney and Abingdon, it’s a next-day service.

“We will need at least six beds and it might need to be a flexible number. I can’t quite understand how the flexibility will work because hopefully the care home will be full of residents.

“Most people would like to stay at home if it’s safe and effective seven days a week but there’s always a number of patients who would rather the security of being in a ward with care 24 hours a day.

“If the hospital opens without beds there’s no going back. We are anxious and not convinced enough to stand here as your GPs and say this model is fine.

“The beds should be placed in the new hospital and over a period of time, be it two, three or five years, we can find out that the model of care can be provided and be more reassured.”

Dr Unwin, of the Hart Surgery, added: “I do believe that the money is available for beds at Townlands and has been earmarked for that.

“If we went for the commissioning group’s model we would be taking a big risk with our hospital. It feels like a bit of an experiment and, make no mistake, when the beds are gone that’s it.

“We have time to take the decision properly and over the next year the right decision will become apparent. This is going to be a compromise.”

Dr Peter Ashby, a former GP who sits on the steering group, said the situation at Townlands was reminiscent of when the Henley War Memorial Hospital was closed and demolished in 1985.

He said: “We are being asked to give up something we’ve got for the benefit of Oxfordshire. In the Eighties we were asked to close our hospital to build an emergency unit at Battle Hospital in Reading.

“We were also told we would get funds from the sale of the hospital to pay for Townlands. That money never appeared and would have paid for something twice the size.

“We are again being asked to sacrifice what we have for the sake of everyone else.

“There aren’t that many Henley patients in Townlands beds because when one becomes empty the hospitals rush to fill it with whoever they need to move on. There are a lot of Henley patients in Reading or Oxford who can’t come here.

“Why can’t we have beds? There’s space and room for a transitional period. We are appealing to the commissioning group to listen to our views and co-operate so we have the best of both until we don’t need beds any more.”

Dr Elizabeth Collett, a former GP at the Bell Surgery, said the rapid care unit wouldn’t cater for patients with a range of medical problems or those who end up dying from their illnesses.

She said: “They are going to have to go to Reading or Oxford, which makes a huge difference to them and their relatives visiting them.”

Rev Glyn Millington, minister of Christ Church United Reformed Church in Henley, added: “We are all going to die and one of the things I’ve always appreciated with the beds at Townlands is that, from time to time, I have to deal with someone who can’t be cared for at home but wants to die as close to home as they can. That’s important.”

Jan Stanton, from Henley, said: “I’m sure it will be lovely with the new services but a hospital without beds is like a pub without beer.”

Town councillor Sam Evans said: “How many of us will it take to stand up and say we need more beds for you to listen to us? I’m not sure a petition of 1,000, 10,000 or 20,000 is going to impact on the model you have done.”

Members of public also criticised plans to use beds at the care home and suggested the original 18 could be installed on the second floor of the hospital, which is currently empty after the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed pulled out of a deal to relocate there.

Town councillor David Eggleton said: “We have got a perfectly working Townlands and Peppard ward. It’s usually full and when a bed is empty someone comes straight into it.

“Why can’t we just keep that as it is and work it back into the plan? A care home is a care home, not a hospital.”

Fellow councillor Martin Akehurst added: “We have an ageing demographic and an increase in housing over the next few years.

“How often are you going to review the number of beds and what facilities do you have to increase the beds as required?”

Barry Wood, a member of the steering group, asked if provision of the five beds had been agreed with the care home.

Mr Jackson said: “The worst thing would be for us to go and sign a deal before the consultation has finished. We have spoken to the Orders of St John and they support the idea.”

When the meeting heard that the new unit would be open only three days a week, there were gasps and angry comments from the public.

Dr Burnett said: “Some of this is just having confidence in the new model and I can understand your concerns. The proposal is that the rapid care unit will be three days a week. It’s not the same model as in Witney or Abingdon because in Henley we don’t have the population to support that. We are too close to the Royal Berks.”

The panel urged residents to fill in the consultation questionnaire, which was handed out at the end of the meeting.

Mr McGrane said: “The model with which the bed numbers are made is not an exact science. We have to make some leaps of faith.

“Our GP colleagues and all the community staff need to be convinced about the model but it’s wrong to suggest they are not convinced at all. There are areas they are strongly supportive of but they also have concerns.

“There’s a balance here between making the best use of the estate. Were we to start to consult on something bespoke it would incur additional costs.

“Our staff deliver exemplary care currently but this is a model which has existed for a long time and we are proposing a model to do things differently with a better outcome for patients.”

Ms Mills, head of contracting and procurement for the commissioning group, added: “I appreciate there’s a huge strength of feeling in the room and that’s why it’s so important to feed back in writing. This is an active consultation process and we want feedback to help inform the final model. At that point it’s our responsibility to ensure there’s a robust transitional plan in place.”

Tony Lloyd, a governor at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, said it was “criminal” to ask for feedback on the consultation without a full transitional plan for the time between closing the old hospital and opening the new one.

Town councillor Stefan Gawrysiak added: “You have heard loud and clear that the GPs are not convinced, they are our experts who we trust.

“Do you think that the questionnaire you are asking people to fill in is fit for purpose?” to which members of the public shouted “no” and gave Councillor Gawrysiak a round of applause.

To take part in the consultation, call 01865 334638, email or visit

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