Sunday, 01 August 2021

Secret of new hospital delay

THE new rapid access care unit at Townlands Hospital is unlikely to be open until the summer.

THE new rapid access care unit at Townlands Hospital is unlikely to be open until the summer.

The new hospital is due to open to patients by the start of March but a Freedom of Information request made by the Henley Standard has shown that contract negotiations over the new unit have not been completed and will not be published until April.

Once the hospital build is completed by the developers, a medical lead for the unit will then need to be hired, meaning patients could have to wait until May or June for it to open.

The care unit was approved by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group in September to replace the original plans for 18 beds at the new £16million “health campus”, despite protests by residents, patients and doctors.

It will provide services including antibiotic treatment and transfusions and will run alongside eight beds in the neighbouring Orders of St John care home, with six more available on demand.

Contracts for the beds in the care home have also still to be negotiated and the home itself is not due to be completed until the summer.

At a meeting of the Townlands Steering Group on Monday, this latest delay was dubbed “intolerable” and endemic of the “poor communication” shown by the commissioning group.

The commissioning group says it had always planned to have a “phased implementation” to allow for staff training and the recruitment of the medical lead.

The new hospital, which is due to be handed over next week, ahead of a four-week “decant” period, will open with only existing services, including minor injuries, outpatients clinics, radiology and community nursing.

At Monday’s meeting, former Henley mayor Barry Wood claimed that it could be months before all services were available.

Mr Wood said: “The rapid access care unit is not going to open as we all thought it would or on time. We don’t have a date, it’s somewhere in the future. Something will open in March but we don’t know what it will be.

“This is intolerable — we are not being treated like partners, we are being treated like people who are told little fragments and thrown crumbs. That the rapid access care unit is not happening on time is just a symptom of the disease that is poor communication by the commissioning group.”

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, said he had understood that it would take a while to get the care unit fully operational.

But he added: “While there might have been a delay of a week or two it would be nothing like it is now, where the hospital will be fully open in the first week of March but the contracts for the care unit won’t be announced until April.

“In the meantime they will have to recruit individuals who will need to give notice at their current jobs. It can’t possibly open before May or June.

“We made the point to the commissioning group that we were given no notice about the situation where it’s opening three or four months late.

“While we understand it needs time to build up services, the fact that we have found that out by squeezing out little bits of information makes people feel suspicious and disappointed and highlights the commissioning group’s lack of engagement.”

Mayor Lorraine Hillier said: “We thought the whole point was that the unit would be opening at the same time as the hospital.”

In a statement, the commissioning group said: “Now we know the vacant possession date for the hospital, we are going ahead with starting the implementation phase by signing off the job description for the medical lead and placing the job advert, together with finalising provider discussions on the implementation plan, steps and timescales.

“Services will continue to be provided at either the old or the new building as usual unless directly advised otherwise. It is therefore important that all patients continue to attend their scheduled appointments.”

Meanwhile, the steering group has threatened to quit a new stakeholders group formed to monitor the new hospital unless the way it is run is changed.

It claims the Townlands Stakeholders Reference Group is PR machine for the commissioning group.

The stakeholders group, which met for the first time in December, includes the Mayor and one representative each from the steering group, the Friends of Townlands and the South-East locality forum plus two voluntary sector and patient representatives, one carer and one parent-carer.

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

As the Henley Standard reported in December, its meetings are not held in  public.

Cllr Reissmann said: “The commissioning group has not delivered on its commitment to engage with the community. The stakeholders group is run, managed and controlled by the commissioning group, which is simply imposing decisions without working with the community.

“Staying in the group runs a real risk of them just saying they are talking to us.”

Cllr Reissmann said the commissioning group had said one of the aims of the stakeholders group was to “actively champion positive messages about the new model of care in Henley to facilitate culture change and better community understanding”, which the steering group opposes.

He said: “We want to monitor it, not become a PR company for it. It is clear the commissioning group is using the stakeholders group to promote a positive view of the new model.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who attended the first meeting of the group with the Mayor, said it was “completely and utterly unrepresentative”.

“I don’t see the group as representative and I don’t think it’s going to answer the questions we want,” he added.

Judith Nimmo-Smith, a member of the Friends of Townlands Hospital, said the Friends had turned down an invitation to join the group due to a lack of trust.

She said: “There was no support to engage with the people that set up this organisation. It was just another meeting behind closed doors and as trustees of a charitable organisation we felt we shouldn’t get over-involved with the bureaucratic side, which I think the steering group does very well.”

The steering group is to write to Dr Joe McManners, chairman of the commissioning group’s governing body, to express its concerns and send a copy to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The group’s representatives will attend the next stakeholders group meeting on Tuesday.

Cllr Reissmann said: “We have alternative terms of reference which we will put forward but if they turn these down we should leave.”

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