Monday, 02 August 2021

Hospital watchdog chairman unseated

AN independent chairman will be appointed to a group set up to monitor the new Townlands Hospital following accusations that it has failed to engage with the community

AN independent chairman will be appointed to a group set up to monitor the new Townlands Hospital following accusations that it has failed to engage with the community.

The Townlands Stakeholders Reference Group has agreed to find the new chairman, who will not have links to any of the bodies currently represented on the group, after representations made by the Townlands Steering Group and Henley MP John Howell.

The current chairwoman is Corrine Yates, head of strategic communications and engagement for the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which runs the group.

Last week, the Henley Standard reported that the steering group had accused the stakeholders group of being a “PR machine” for the commissioning group. The group, which met for the second time on Tuesday, includes the Mayor and one representative each from the steering group 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 well as bodies including Henley Volunteer Drivers and Dementia Oxfordshire.

Meetings are not held in public and agendas are set by the commissioning group.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who attended the first two meetings of the group with the Mayor, said it was “completely and utterly unrepresentative”, while the Friends of Townlands Hospital turned down an invitation to join the group due to a lack of trust.

Councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, says an independent chairman is a step in the right direction but he still has concerns over the way the group is run.

He said: “The commissioning group came to Tuesday’s meeting with a proposal that the chair should be independent. The key is who would that be, who would be acceptable to the community and the commissioning group? That remains to be sorted.

“It shows that they have accepted there are issues over independence and that this group was set up without allowing us to influence its nature. The commissioning group manages the stakeholders group, sets its agenda and conducts the meetings. That’s not working in partnership but we hope they are starting to listen and that we can help in this project.

“There are still areas where we are concerned about the lack of communication. They still seem to be insisting that the delay with the care unit wasn’t a surprise but it was. They haven’t realised the extent to which they have failed to communicate.”

Last week, the Henley Standard also reported that the new rapid access care unit at Townlands may not be operational until the summer, despite the rest of the hospital opening in March.

Contract negotiations have not been completed and will not be published until April. A medical lead for the unit then needs to be appointed.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioning group said the unit was due to open in May.

In a statement, Mr Howell said: “My understanding was that there was always an intention to have a phased implementation plan for the rapid access care unit service after opening and note that this is recorded in the commissioning group’s September board minutes.

“Initially the unit was to start operating from December. We have long known about the slip in this due to building delays. However, there were no precise timescales given from opening to full operation.

“I am concerned to see the whole facility fully operational as soon as possible.

“In order to avoid any undue speculation or confusion I asked the commissioning group to provide more clarity for the wider community on the expected timeline by which patients will be able to access the new service.”

The care unit was approved by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group in September to replace the original plans for 18 beds at the new £16 million “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.

A full implementation plan for the unit is expected to be published next week.

The commissioning group is still negotiations with the Bell and Hart surgeries to relocate to the hospital’s empty second floor.

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