Friday, February 25, 2005

Hospital consultation - three days to go !

Back to the subject of local hospitals.

The consultation on the future of local acute hospital services in West Cumbria (and the rest of North Cumbria) closes at the end of this month.

If you are a North Cumbria resident and have views about our hospitals which you have not sent in to the NHS trust, I strongly recommend that you let them know what you think. If you're reading this you must have email and internet access, so I suggest that you email the trusts on before 28th February 2005.

Watch out for the Politics show this Sunday

The BBC in the North East and Cumbria are looking at battleground constituencies for each party in the run up to the General Election. They are expecting to do a short piece on Copeland on the politics show this coming Sunday lunchtime (12.30 BBC One in the North) I was interviewed yesterday and then filmed talking to local voters in a pub in Whitehaven.

Compared to our canvass returns - which are encouraging - the people in the pub were too small a sample to be meaningful in statistical terms, but some of the views expressed were interesting. There were one or two who said they would vote Conservative, most of the rest were floating voters. There was considerable distrust for politicians of all parties, but especially for New Labour. The main concerns raised were jobs, housing, the need to improve road and rail transport links, and education.

Crime, drugs, immigration and Europe were also brought up, and the war in Iraq is still an issue for many people.

I certainly enjoyed the evening's discussion: I just hope that when I and the BBC people had all gone the regulars in the pub didn't feel we'd interefered with their evening too much !!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fight against A595 De-Trunking: Public Inquiry

The Highways Agency, a quango accountable to the government's transport department, wants to de-trunk the A595 and A5092, which means that responsiblity for these roads would be transferred to the County Council and that they would be moved to a lower status in the road hierarchy. This proposal reminds me of Dorothy Parker's review of a bad book.

Her comment was that it should "not be lightly tossed aside, but should be hurled with great force."

If we're going to protect jobs and businesses in West Cumbria we need better transport links, not worse ones. The money available to Cumbria County council to maintain these roads if they were de-trunked and handed over to the council would probably be about half what is currently spent. And it is also likely that less money would also be provided to improveme the roads.

The A595 is the only major road serving a large chunk of Cumbria, including the town of Millom, a large number of villages including Seascale, Beckermet, Gosforth, Holmrook and Bootle, and the Nuclear Waste storage facility at Drigg.

I have attended a number of meetings about this proposal recently, including a Neighbourhood Forum at Calder Bridge and a Pre-Public Inquiry meeting in Millom. The most memorable comment came from John Jackson, a borough councillor from Beckermet who chairs the neighbourhood forum, who said that far from de-trunking the road we should dual it.

Almost as memorable, and perhaps most significantly, the inspector at the public inquiry pre-meeting noted that it is very unusual for a road to have trunk status removed without a new or upgraded road replacing it. He asked the Highways Agency (the government organisation which is proposing the change) to produce evidence of how this fits in with national and local policies, and invited protestors to give a view if we think it doesn't. As there are a large number of national and local policies which can be interpreted as requiring improved transport links to West Cumbria, I hope and expect that those of us who are opposing the de-trunking order should be able to produce some strong evidence on this point.

The public inquiry will start in St Bees on Tuesday 19th April.

The people who are opposing the de-trunking include Cumbria County Council, Copeland Borough Council, just about every parish or town council in the affected area, Copeland Conservatives, the other local political parties (some more actively than others) and various local action groups, residents, and local businesses. So the public inquiry could be billed as "Highways Agency versus the people of West Cumbria." Let's hope the good guys win this one - it will be a black day for West Cumbria if we don't.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hundreds attend hospital meeting

I was delighted to see a good crowd at Whitehaven Civic Hall for the hospitals public meeting. I suspect there were probably about three hundred people present.

The meeting was organised by the local NHS Trusts as part of their review of acute hospital services in the North Cumbria NHS area (which includes West Cumbria.)

Some interesting announcements by the Trust - it was confirmed that although it is more likely that they will want to build a new hospital on a new site in West Cumbria they have not ruled out the possibility of refurbishing the existing site.

One particularly interesting quote from the Chief Executive of the Acute Services NHS Trust, Marie Burnham, was that if Downing Street had their way there would only be one district general hospital for North Cumbria. She also said that there had been no capital investment in the West Cumberland for ten years up until about 18 months ago - referring to the money spent since then as being due to better financial management.

The evening's most amusing slip of the tongue - when asked a question about the number of beds that the new hospital would have Marie Burnham accidentally referred to this as "the no-beds question." However, she then made the much more serious point that current bed utilisation at the West Cumberland is 91% and to avoid MRSA you need to aim for 80% - which suggests to me that there is not much room for cutting bed numbers if you want to maintain the level of service.

I spoke about the need for a positive vision for the future and suggested that the Trust should work at the earliest possible stage with the University of Central Lancashire and those who are seeking to bring a University campus to Whitehaven. Our long term aim must be a teaching hospital so that the best and brightest doctors and key professionals will want to come to Cumbria.

Marie Burnham, confirmed that the trusts are in discussions with the Universities and are keen to establish University input to develop the role of the hospitals in North Cumbria as teaching hospitals.

We now have until the end of February to get our views to the trusts, as this marks the conclusion of the present round of public consultation.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Hospital public meeting: One day to go

The public meeting to discuss the future of local hospitals in North and West Cumbria is to be held at Whitehaven Civic Hall at 7pm tomorrow (Tuesday 15th February 2005)

Anyone who cares about the local health service should be there if at all possible.

See previous post for more details.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hospital public meeting: 2 days to go !!!

Anyone in West Cumbria who might ever need to use the local health services in this part of the world and is able to do so should try to attend the Public Meeting in Whitehaven Civic Hall at 7pm on Tuesday 15th February.

The NHS trusts covering North and West Cumbria are carrying out a consultation on the future of local acute hospital services. Their proposals include the closure of the West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven and its replacement by a new hospital somewhere in West Cumbria on a site to be determined.

The Trusts propose that the new hostpital will provide emergency services with ITU (Intensive Therapy Unit), Maternity and children's services. It is planned to "move post-acute patients to community healthcare settings" and "make specialist rehabilitation services more community based."

What is not clear is where the new hospital will be, how many beds it will have, or what level of Accident & Emergency and ITU will be provided. I believe it is imperative that it is at least level 5, that the number of hospital beds should be maintained, and that the new hospital should be provided on a location which puts as high as possible a proportion of the population of Cumbria within an hour's effective reach of a level 5/6 Accident and Emergency unit. In my opinion that means the new hospital should be in Copeland.

Whether you agree with me or not, if you live in West Cumbria and have a view, let the Trusts know what it is. Come to the meeting or email before 28th February 2005.