Friday, 17 September 2021

Now will you listen to us?

CAMPAIGNERS have warned health chiefs that a march against plans to cut the number of beds

CAMPAIGNERS have warned health chiefs that a march against plans to cut the number of beds at the new Townlands Hospital is “only the beginning”.

About 2,000 people took part in the march around Henley town centre last Saturday in protest at the proposals by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group to install five beds at the hospital instead of the 18 that were originally promised.

Protesters have now vowed to “keep up the pressure” to change the plans, including a possible legal challenge.

But David Smith, chief executive of the commissioning group, appeared to suggest the five-bed model will go ahead despite the protest after saying he can’t “turn back the tide of change”.

The Townlands Steering Group says that despite a good turnout at the march, more campaigning is needed to change the mind of the commissioning group.

At a meeting on Monday, the group agreed to look at ways it can legally challenge the plans, including a possible judicial review.

It has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the commissioning group over the research used to come to the figure of five beds and will also look to form a fund-raising group. The group will provide a minibus to take members of the public to the commissioning group’s board meeting in Banbury on July 30, where a decision will be made on the model used at the new hospital.

Councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, said: “I don’t think on its own the march is going to change anything unfortunately but it adds a powerful voice to our argument.

“We have plenty going on — this is going to be a vibrant and busy campaign and we will keep up the pressure in every way we can.

“We want volunteers to come to the board meetings. We will take banners and pictures and show them that we don’t agree with the plans and want to go back to the original model.

“We are also working with our MP John Howell, who can reach places in his unique position where he can apply pressure. One thing we are certain of is that if we do nothing we will get nothing. We have to give it our best shot and press for 18 beds.

“Ten years ago we fought against the odds to save the hospital and whatever odds we face now we are ready to take them on.”

Mayor Lorraine Hillier added: “It’s more than just the march, we are going to have a prolonged campaign to get this plan scrapped. This is a start but it’s only the beginning of the fight.

“We haven’t done enough yet to change the commissioning group’s minds but it’s a good start and we are trying to all work together to put pressure on them.

“I’m not that confident at the moment that we can get them to change their plans but it won’t be for want of trying.

“We are trying every angle we can because we know that just trying to negotiate will lead to a brick wall. There’s been no effort from the commissioning group to negotiate with us, they haven’t moved their stance at all.

“We are looking at legal challenges and we also want a good turnout at the meeting on July 30 because it helps if people turn out in strength.”

Peter Ashby, a retired Henley GP and member of the steering group, says he hopes the campaign will lead to negotiations with the commissioning group, which he claims has refused to negotiate on the plans.

Dr Ashby said: “At the moment they don’t show any sign of wanting to discuss the plans with us so we are hoping the march will have cajoled them a bit.

“Previous administrations have responded to public shows of anger but this group seems unwilling to meet at any stage. It’s been very difficult to negotiate with them at any level because they just don’t listen to any of the ideas we have.

“We have one or two irons in the fire and we are prepared to take them further if needs be.”

Dr Ashby also praised the Henley Standard’s “Save Our Beds” campaign. He said: “The Henley Standard has done a great deal and it’s very much appreciated. People are buoyed to see things like this are being reported and the support from the paper is very important.”

The commissioning group is proposing to “buy” the five beds, which will offer “step up” and “step down” care, from the neighbouring Orders of St John care home.

This means the hospital would be left without any beds for at least six months when the 14-bed Peppard ward is demolished in November.

They would be replaced by a next-day rapid access care unit which would be open three days a week.

Protestors carried placards and chanted “save our beds!” during the march, which at one point stretched from the town hall to the bottom of Hart Street.

Town councillors and members of the steering group were at the front of a march holding a banner which read “Save Townlands hospital beds”, while Henley MP John Howell, Cllr Hillier and Cllr Reissmann were among those to make speeches on the town hall steps after the march.

The commissioning group held a consultation on the latest proposals which ended last month. More than 300 people filled in questionnaires and the responses will be considered at the board meeting.

The Henley Standard’s petition, which called for the full 18 beds to be installed at the hospital, was signed by more than 3,000 people and was handed in to the commissioning group at the end of the consultation. The Townlands Steering Group is also challenging the consultation, which it says is “flawed.”

Mr Smith declined to give an interview to the Henley Standard but issued a comment following the march.

He said: “The strength of feeling locally has been made very clear and this is not something that we underestimate or do not appreciate. Henley has much to feel proud of in its local NHS services but this doesn’t mean the way healthcare is provided can stand still.

“Across the country, the NHS and social care colleagues are working together to find the best ways to deliver safe, high quality services that meet people’s needs for years to come.

“Some local residents may think that we can turn back the tide of change but we can’t. There is an undeniable truth that healthcare and 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.

“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.

“Our aim throughout the consultation was to run a process which allowed 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 its chair to ensure they have been involved in the months leading up to and throughout the consultation process; this has included the chair being an active member of the planning group.

“We have heard people’s frustration at us not being able to have all the fine detail relating to the new services during the consultation. Given we have been in consultation, if we had everything planned out in detail we may have been accused of having already decided the outcome.

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

Mr Smith has also denied that the five-bed model is about saving money. In a letter to Mr Howell, he said the annual rental cost of the new hospital building will be £961,000 regardless of what model is put in. The current cost is about £240,000 per year.

He said: “The model proposed is not about saving money but about how we give patients the best possible health outcomes within the funds available to us.

“Rather than the introduction of the new model of care saving money, there will be an increased cost which the NHS locally has to fund out of its existing budget.”

The commissioning group has not provided figures for the cost of either the new five-bed or original 18-bed models.

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