Friday, March 17, 2017
As the dust settles ..
The article below was written for the Whitehaven News and published by them in a slightly shorter form earlier this week.
NOW WE MUST COME TOGETHER TO FIGHT FOR MATERNITY AND CHILDREN’S SERVICES
Following one of the most divisive by-election campaigns ever, I would like to congratulate our new MP, Trudy Harrison on her richly-deserved election. Now we all need to move forward.
Last week the Clinical Commissioning Group decided their response to the “Success Regime” proposals. I had hoped that they would really listen to the views of 91% of the thousands of people who responded to the consultation, and make a permanent commitment to retain consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital, while reconsidering their views for children’s services, which are needed to support the kind of maternity service our community must have.
The one year’s stay of execution which has been offered is an inadequate response, and our community must work together to get something better.
We need a concerted PR campaign to persuade medical professionals that West Cumbria is a fantastic place to live and work, explain the enhanced career opportunities which the West Cumberland Medical Education Centre provides, and the NHS must work with UCLAN to build further on those opportunities, particularly for Obstetrics and Paediatrics. Trying to persuade people to come here with another review in a year hanging over the service is not the best way to address the morale, recruitment and retention issues. This decision must be called in by the County Council and replaced with a policy which sends the clearest possible signal to NHS staff that consultant-led maternity in West Cumbria has a future.
A decade ago, when the last proposal to downgrade maternity at West Cumberland Hospital was put forward under a Labour government, I was the prospective Conservative candidate. Any possible defence of the divisive NHS leaflets issued by Labour during the by-election campaign must inevitably imply that I’d have been entitled to put out similar election leaflets in the 2005-10 parliament with “Labour” and “Tory” reversed. Had I done so, the very people who handed out Labour leaflets during the by-election would have screamed their heads off with outrage. I did nothing of the kind, and despite enormous provocation from the office of our former Labour MP, attempted to work with others on a cross-party basis to support the “Save our services” and “Don’t move our mums” campaigns.
Following the by-election various individuals have used social media to attack the voters of Copeland for supposedly not caring about the NHS. They are ignorant of what the people of West Cumbria are really like and have missed the point. People didn’t vote as they did because they don’t care about the NHS: Labour’s health campaign was rightly regarded as extreme and overstated and therefore was actively counterproductive.
Labour councillor Tim Knowles admitted in your letters page after the election that his party has a trust problem (WNH letters 2nd March). The by-election result proved that you don’t solve such a problem by delivering hysterically worded leaflets containing claims which many people know are not correct – for example, claiming that your opponents are planning to take all the beds away from a community hospital at which the success regime was and is proposing to increase them.
There’s an even more painful lesson for all of us who spent time on the doorstep. We all found massive disillusionment and the belief that this area has been ignored and neglected for decades. Furthermore, this is not just the responsibility of any party’s national leadership in London. Yes, Tim Knowles’ carefully coded attack on Jeremy Corbyn was justified but local politicians of all parties, and yes, independents too, also need to ask ourselves what we can do to represent this area better.
Trudy Harrison was elected partly because instead of offering more of the same she was putting forward a fresh, positive approach and a plan to sort out the problems of our community. Whether it is on hospital services, jobs, or infrastructure, we need to move forward as a community and achieve more for the people of this area.