Friday, 30 July 2021


THOUSANDS of people are set to march through Henley in support of the Save Our Beds campaign.

THOUSANDS of people are set to march through Henley in support of the Save Our Beds campaign.

Town councillors and GPs are among those who will take to the streets next month in protest at proposals by health chiefs to cut the number of beds at the new Townlands Hospital from 18 to just five.

Last week, the Henley Standard reported that residents had called for a march if the plans aren’t changed following a public consultation by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

The group has acknowledged the campaign and conceded that the provision of beds is the primary issue to have come out of the consultation. The full results will be presented to the group’s board on July 30.

Campaigners want a march before and it could take place as soon as Saturday, July 11 if road closures and policing can be agreed in time. Mayor Lorraine Hillier told a meeting of the town council on Tuesday that she was backing the campaign.

She said: “There is so much talk about this issue and I am so glad the Henley Standard put it on their front page.

“Everybody who comes up to me at every event I do wants to talk about Townlands. It’s the number one subject in the town and lots of people remember the previous march we did in 2005. We need to show strength and unity. The commissioning group don’t look like they are going to come down from their stance but if we do this march it will show the depth of feeling.

“The more people that turn up the better — it certainly helped before. A march brings the town together and delivers a potent message. People power counts for a lot.”

Health chiefs had originally proposed to have 18 beds at the new £16million “health campus” four more than on the existing Peppard ward, but now wants to “buy” five at a care home to be built next to the new hospital.This would leave Townlands without any beds for at least six months when the current hospital is demolished in November.

The beds would be replaced by a next-day “rapid access care unit” in order for patients to be treated at home where possible.

The commissioning group says it will consider all responses from the consultation before presenting the results to its board.

Meanwhile, an overview of the consultation process, along with some initial findings, will be presented to Oxfordshire County Council’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday.

The Townlands Steering Group claims that the consultation failed because the process was “flawed” and it will formally challenge its validity at next week’s meeting.

Almost 3,000 people have signed the Henley Standard’s Save Our Beds petition, which called for the original 18 beds to be reinstated. The petition was presented to the commissioning group last week.

Ian Reissmann, chairman of the steering group, said: “I, along with many other people, was disappointed that the commissioning group failed to explain their plan very clearly or to indicate any flexibility in their position on the loss of the 18 beds.

“The steering group and its sub-group will be presenting a list of concerns to the health scrutiny committee.

“The sub-group met on Tuesday and felt that the policy of working with the commissioning group to get a mutually agreeable way forward was not working out and they were likely to press on with their proposals, so we need to up the high-profile nature of the campaign.

“We expect the march to be the centrepiece of a campaign lasting weeks or months to make sure the commissioning group rethinks its proposals.

“We are planning a whole campaign in the run-up to the board meeting on July 30 aimed at putting pressure on the commissioning group. We would like to continue with the petition. Last time we took a petition to Downing Street.

“We are also looking for new ideas. We want to hear from the community about what they want to take place and when they want it.

“It should be a community-led campaign for the whole area that Townlands will be covering. It’s more than just Henley.”

More than 4,000 people took part in a march around the town in August 2005 to protest against the proposed closure of the hospital. Among them was the then Henley MP Boris Johnson and local GP Dr Peter Ashby.

Dr Ashby, who worked at the Bell Surgery and is a member of the steering group, said: “I have happy memories of the last march. We had a good crowd, lots of people walked with us and also lined the streets cheering us on.

“Boris was brilliant and there were a lot of people whose hearts were close to the issue, including local nurses, doctors and supporters of the hospital. It was a very peaceful and nice protest but it also made a point.”

Dr Ashby has backed a second march now and has called on residents from the villages around Henley to take part.

He said: “I think it’s a good thing to do. We have reached a stage where our attempts to engage with the commissioning group seem to have largely failed and there’s no indication from them that they will listen to anything we have said.

“So far they have shown no inclination to change their view and the consideration of the board won’t happen until the end of July, by which time it will be quite late to do anything more proactive.

“The pressure for a march to be done again and to make our unhappiness more public is there. Whether that changes their mind, we will have to wait and see but it’s a powerful display and we want the parishes to take part too.”

Henley MP John Howell said he did not want to comment before the results of the consultation were published but confirmed that he would attend a march.

The commissioning group received more than 300 questionnaires and 36 letters during the consultation.

It said an initial review of responses showed support for the rapid access care unit but also concerns over the number of beds and the transition period between the old hospital being demolished and the new one being built.

The group said: “The public have articulated a wish for the 2012 proposal of 18 beds to remain and be fulfilled.

“It is clear however, that there are different interpretations and understanding of the existing level of bed provision at Townlands and the current purpose of those beds.

“The community has expressed a wish to have community beds available to provide end-of-life care and respite, although the beds on Peppard ward are not currently used for this purpose.

“It is clear that people value the proposal for step-up beds, however the concern and request for 18 beds is specific to people requiring step-down care.”

David Smith, chief executive of the clinical commissioning group, Stuart Bell, chief executive of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and John Jackson, director of adult social care at the county council wrote a letter to this week’s Henley Standard.

It said: “Our aim throughout this consultation has been to run a process which allows people to give us their views and reasons for and against the proposed model of care.

“We have worked with the Townlands Steering Group and Cllr Reissmann to ensure they have been involved in the months leading up to and throughout the consultation process.

“The strength of feeling locally has been made very clear and this is not something that we underestimate or fail to appreciate. Henley has much to feel proud of in its local NHS services — publicly funded services which have met local health needs over many years.

“But this does not mean the way healthcare is provided can stand still - we have a duty to ensure services are able to meet people’s changing health needs.

“There is a growing body of clinical evidence, both nationally and internationally, which supports the view of clinicians that frail elderly patients often do not benefit from hospitalisation and may be better served by meeting their needs in their own homes and this is a primary driver for the proposals set out.

“There is an undeniable truth that healthcare and modes of delivery, along with people’s health needs, have moved on since the original hospital was built and even since the consultation on proposals for the new hospital three years ago and we need to recognise this.

“We have to look at the future not to the past and believe these changes will further improve the quality of healthcare we can offer to local people.

“We have a great opportunity to make Townlands Hospital an exemplar of a new way of providing services and we are asking that you work with us to achieve this ambition.”

The Orders of St John, which will run the new care home, has confirmed it has been approached by the commissioning group to provide beds but no contract has been signed.

Dan Hayes, operations director, said: “We’re in very early discussions about what the requirements might be. However, we’ve indicated our willingness to help in any way possible.”

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