Local Hospitals

I've just had a welcome telephone conversation with the Chief Executive of the West Sussex Primary Care Trust, John Wilderspin.

Next week, the Board of the Trust will consider a recommendation that inpatient paediatrics, emergency surgery and inpatient maternity services will be maintained at both St Richard's and Worthing Hospitals.

It will also consider a recommendation to maintain consultant-led maternity services at the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath.

The Board is expected to approve the plan, once and for all burying the deeply unpopular and damaging ‘Fit for the Future' plans to downgrade our hospitals.

The whole community will be relieved.  But what are the lessons from this unhappy saga?

First, this whole process has been a costly and wasteful shambles.  We first heard rumours that NHS managers were considering amalgamating hospital services three and a half years ago.  Since then, we've had not one but two consultations, delays and changes.  The public have been worried and staff morale damaged unnecessarily.

On the day when we hear that life-extending drugs are going to be denied to liver cancer patients, the waste of millions of pounds of NHS money on botched re-organisation plans makes me particularly angry.

Second, there has been a total absence of accountability in this process.  The local PCT is unelected and answers to no-one, while Ministers claimed - incredibly - that the drive for mergers had nothing to do with them.  The original report by management consultants was kept secret for months before it was revealed.

Third, for too long in this process, new service configurations were being discussed to accommodate revised working arrangements for doctors.  That was the wrong way around.  The driver for any health reforms should be what is in the interests of patients. 

Finally, it was the tireless grassroots campaigns, the thousands in our communities who marched and the hundreds of thousands who signed petitions who made the difference.  Thank goodness that sense and people power finally prevailed.

Michelle Taylor