Tuesday, 27 July 2021

We deserve the hospital we campaigned for

IN the mid-1700s the old poor house on the site of the Kenton Theatre was found

IN the mid-1700s the old poor house on the site of the Kenton Theatre was found to be too small and so the burghers of Henley moved it to what is now the Townlands site.

The numbers housed on the new site grew steadily and eventually an infirmary was added to care for the sick. The workhouse and its infirmary eventually became what we now know as Townlands Hospital.

After the First World War, the Walker family gave some land in memory of the sons they had lost and the people of Henley raised the funds to build the War Memorial Hospital.

This was used as a short stay surgical unit and for midwifery and had a small casualty department. The maternity and casualty units were moved to Townlands when the new outpatient buildings were developed.

When the maternity unit was closed, the wards in the old buildings at Townlands were gradually wound down and Peppard ward was located in the former maternity unit.

In 1983, the then Berkshire Health Authority wanted to build a day surgery unit at the Battle Hospital in Reading. This would provide a much-improved service for the population of Berkshire, South Buckinghamshire and South Oxfordshire.

To enable this project to happen, we were asked to sacrifice the War Memorial Hospital and as compensation told that funds from the sale of the site would be ploughed back into the redevelopment of Townlands Hospital.

This commitment, which is recorded in Henley Town Council minutes and is etched in the memories of several retired GPs who were involved at the time, was reneged upon and the money has disappeared.

Throughout the Eighties and Nineties there were continuous battles to prevent the closure of the hospital and, finally, in the early 2000s the then primary care trust came up with the infamous Southern Locality Plan, which envisaged the closure of Townlands as a bedded hospital.

At a memorable crowded meeting in the town hall the people of Henley and district rejected the proposals and the Townlands Steering Group was formed from a group of councillors and local people. Initially, we were in opposition to the trust but we gradually won them over. We all remember the march, the petition and the buses to Parliament.

In 2005, it was decided that the hospital would be redeveloped, offering the existing services only but with the option of additional services if they could be paid for.

This was a significant victory for the community and everything was levied up for the signing of the fund contracts when yet another NHS re-organisation took place.

Everything went quiet for a while but eventually NHS Property Services emerged from the shadows. It was in charge of the contract for the buildings, which were signed, and the work started on the planned  18-bed ward, outpatients and casualty and a ward for Sue Ryder on the top floor.

Behind the scenes, another new body, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, appeared and without consulting the steering group (or anyone else), started to plan the services they wanted to put into Townlands.

Their plans were accelerated by the withdrawal at a very late stage of Sue Ryder, which had bid for space on the top floor but then decided to pull out. Somewhat surprisingly, the charity had not signed a contract with NHS Property Services, so they did not feel obliged to honour its agreement.

The commissioning group’s plans came as a complete surprise to everyone. including the GPs, who we were told were “on board” with the ideas when clearly they were not.

Prior to the “consultation” that has just taken place, in which we were told what services would be made available, the steering group tried desperately to persuade the commissioning group to consider a transitional option of opening the bedded ward as planned and using the top floor vacated by Sue Ryder as the location for the new services.

Then, if over time the new service delivered as promised, the beds could be progressively closed if they were not needed.

Both the John Radcliffe and Royal Berkshire Hospitals desperately need step-down beds to relieve pressure, so it is impossible to understand how the commissioning group can even consider closing our bedded ward and hope to replace it with a handful of beds in a nursing home which will not be ready for at least another year from now and whose director said last week that he could not promise anything until after the consultation.

As things stand, we could well have no beds in Henley at all.

Let us hope that common sense will prevail and that the commissioning group will listen to our concerns and come up with an acceptable solution.

We must be ready to act swiftly if they demonstrate that they have not listened.

This fight has gone on for a long time and, after the War Memorial Hospital travesty, we deserve a successful outcome.

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