Tuesday, 03 August 2021

Hospital scrutiny group to meet behind closed doors

A NEW group designed to scrutinise the new Townlands Hospital in Henley will meet in secret.

A NEW group designed to scrutinise the new Townlands Hospital in Henley will meet in secret.

Campaigners have accused health chiefs of creating a “smokescreen” with the new Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group, which will meet up to four times a year.

It comes as the opening date for the new hospital has been put back yet again, this time to April. This means the new £16million campus will open more than four years later than when the redevelopment was announced in 2008 and without the 18 beds that were promised at the time.

Instead, there will be eight beds at the neighbouring care home, which has yet to be built, with up to six more available on demand, and a rapid access care unit offering services such as antibiotic treatment and transfusions.

The Townlands Steering Group, which campaigned for more than 10 years for the new hospital, has accused the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group of not being “committed to engagement with the community”.

The commissioning group, which refused demands to stick to the original pledge on beds, agreed to involve the steering group in monitoring the new hospital.

However, it has offered the group only one place on the new stakeholder reference group together with one representative each from the Friends of Townlands, the South-East locality forum and the voluntary sector plus two patient representatives, one carer and one parent-carer.

There will also be representatives of the commissioning group, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and integrated locality teams.

The commissioning group says the group should meet every three months or “when necessary” and that the meetings are not open to the public.

It says: “The role of this group is to act as an open and transparent forum where the commissioning group can provide project updates, seek advice and views and work in promoting partnership with the local community as we prepare for and implement the new services at the Townlands health campus.

“The commissioning group recognises the importance of continuing to work closely with local stakeholders, patients and carers as the development of Townlands progresses.”

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, said: “This is not the type of engagement we were expecting or promised. It’s a group of people meeting in secret and it meets only every three months. We will need alternative lines of communication to ensure that areas which are raised more frequently than every three months are addressed.

“Because this hospital is a pilot project for Oxfordshire we have a great argument for community involvement and communication. One of the great failures of the last year is the various NHS bodies failing to communicate with the community.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who is also a member of the steering group, said: “If these meetings don’t have public accountability and are all behind closed doors then they can fudge the figures, fudge the questions and fudge the answers. If it’s not in public it can’t be ‘open and transparent’.

“This group seems to me at the moment like they just want to fudge it and it’s a smokescreen so that in six months’ time they can say it has been good but there has been no scrutiny.”

Robert Aitken, another steering group member and a Bix and Assendon parish councillor, said: “We should have direct contact. There are answers we should have and it’s a disgrace we don’t have them. When is the hospital going to open, what’s going to be in it, which services and when will it be signed off?

“As far as I’m concerned, the steering group should be holding them to account, by whatever means, on a weekly basis.”

At a meeting on Monday, the steering group agreed a statement saying: “We believe this does not represent engagement in the sense we were given to expect nor do we consider it to be in the best interests of Townlands.

“The steering group’s concerns include accountability, secrecy and the infrequency of meetings — once every three months is not adequate. At best this is patronising and tokenistic and the steering group believes these proposals constitute disengagement by the commissioning group from the community.”

The group said it would like weekly briefings and meetings at least every month, which were open to the public and involved two representatives of the steering group. Speaking after the new group’s first meeting this week, Julia Stackhouse, senior communications and engagement manager for the commissioning group, said: “There is no secrecy to these meetings — we discussed and agreed that all agendas, minutes and any information shared as part of the meetings would be made available on the commissioning group’s website.

“We also agreed that the agenda for each meeting would be developed jointly so that members of the community could help shape and decide what is discussed.

“We also had a very useful discussion about how we could monitor the performance of the new services and what measurements could be built into contractual arrangements with service providers.”

The group had also agreed that it should meet more frequently and that it should have more patient and carer representatives, she said.

Meanwhile, Cllr Reissmann revealed the new hospital would not be fully open before the end of March.

He said that contractors Amber Solutions for Care were due to hand over the hospital to NHS Property Services by the end of February, at which point equipment will be moved into the building.

Cllr Reissmann said: “The decant takes four weeks so we not are looking at the full hospital opening before the end of March, probably April.”

NHS Property Services, which owns the site, said the latest delay was due to “minor construction items” that had taken Amber longer than anticipated to complete.

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