Thursday, 05 August 2021

Campaigners threaten legal action

CAMPAIGNERS say they are prepared to take legal action to save 18 beds at the new

CAMPAIGNERS say they are prepared to take legal action to save 18 beds at the new Townlands Hospital.

The Townlands Steering Group could seek a judicial review of the services at the new £16million “health campus” if the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group goes ahead with its planned model, which includes a rapid access care unit and five to eight beds “bought” from the neighbouring Orders of St John care home.

The original plans for the hospital included 18 beds to replace the original 14 which will be lost when the Peppard ward closes in December.

Last week the commissioning group’s governing body endorsed the new model but asked for “further engagement with stakeholders” before making a final decision.

A meeting of the steering group on Monday heard that Irwin Mitchell Solicitors would be willing to represent the campaigners in any legal action.

Group chairman and town councillor Ian Reissmann said: “We have investigated whether legal measures are possible and it looks like the best way forward is a judicial review. The way that works is two people affected by the changes would need to be found and ideally they would be people for whom legal aid would be granted, meaning it would be largely or completely free.

“We have seen the beds go from five to eight and the rapid access care unit up to seven days. By engaging with the commissioning group there are gains to be had but we need to be realistic that getting 18 beds in the way we have been trying to do doesn’t appear to be on the table.”

Former town councillor Barry Wood, who was  co-opted on to the group at the meeting, said the cost of a judicial review could be as much as £25,000 and the group would need to raise the money.

Mr Wood, who lives in Peppard, suggested a fund-raising group could be chaired by Paddy Nicoll, chairman of the trustees of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley and son-in-law of Sir Martyn Arbib, who founded Invesco Perpetual.

He also proposed approaching locals with “contacts” in the City, such as Sir William McAlpine, of Fawley Hill.

Dr Wood said: “We aren’t in the game of £20 donations, we need £1,000 donations. I would like to see a significant persona as chairman of this group and I’ve got Paddy in mind.” Cllr Reissmann suggested that the parishes surrounding Henley could each set a fund-raising target of £1,000.

“I’d like to see a group run the fund-raising and I think the Mayor would be a great figure to lead that campaign,” he said.

South Oxfordshire district councillors Stefan Gawrysiak and Joan Bland were appointed to the fund-raising group along with Mayor Lorraine Hillier and activist Mike Stanton, who lives in Henley.

The group criticised comments made by the commissioning group’s south-east locality director Dr Andrew Burnett that the catchment population for Townlands was more likely to be 45,000 than the 90,000 previously stated.

It also expressed concern that the rapid access care unit might only be available to patients from Oxfordshire, meaning those in places such as Remenham and Wargrave would be ineligible.

Former Henley mayor Jeni Wood said: “I can’t understand why people from places like Caversham and Wargrave are going to be excluded unless it’s a cynical way of lowering the numbers used in the modelling.”

Mr Stanton said: “I think the commissioning group is saying it’s an Oxfordshire body short of money so it will only service the people of Oxfordshire.”

A commissioning group spokeswoman said: “The proposed rapid access care unit would be commissioned by the group for those registered with an Oxfordshire GP  practice.

“It is anticipated the majority of referrals will be from the five GP practices in nearest proximity to the new Townlands health campus, the Bell Surgery, Goring and Woodcote Medical Practice, the Hart Surgery, Sonning Common Health Centre and Nettlebed Surgery.

“It would be for other commissioning groups to determine whether or not they wished to commission the service for their residents.”

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