Monday, January 22, 2007

Hospital alarm

Alarming changes to our local hospitals will also be under discussion at the ward committee next Monday (that's 7pm at Rocky Lane Methodist Church, Monday 29th).
The project team are coming to explain their proposals. I'm not expecting to feel comforted.

The first wave of changes would strip children's wards and emergency surgery from City Hospital.

Then there's 2010 - or probably much later than 2010 - when they plan to replace all major services at City and Sandwell Hospitals on a new site in Grove Lane, Smethwick.

I spoke on this subject at the city council meeting two weeks ago and was interested to discover that the Grove Lane they mean is the one at Cape Hill, not the one that runs down from Soho Road. There are no maps in the consultation documents to explain.

Local people use both hospitals. My children were all born at Sandwell Hospital. Grove Lane, Smethwick, is approached via the Rabone Lane industrial estate from north west Birmingham. I've used that route a few times, it's a useful cut-hrough but we've also had some nasty bumps along there. I guess the ambulances might use the motorway.

Also alarming when Good Hope, our third local hospital, is going under the wing of Heartlands. I was on the community health council when City and Sandwell were sandwiched together under the same management. We were assured repeatedly that it was purely a management reorganisation to save on the costs of bureaucracy. Some of us were pretty certain it was not - and how right we were. If City had gone under the same management as Good Hope the new hospital would be going up in Witton, by Spaghetti Junction, and THAT'S WHERE IT SHOULD BE! A few years ago in fact there was a report in the papers warning that the region could end up with one super-hospital at just this site. No chance!

Our constituents in Witton are even more worried as many do not have cars. I talked to one whose child regularly uses the children's ward at City Hospital. Now she will have to travel to West Bromwich. How many bus changes is that?

The problem, if you follow my argument, is not that NHS managers keep trying to change things. It is the utterly pointless and endless reorganisations that take place. So we end up with short-termism dressed up as long-term strategy. All that is taking place at the moment is being driven by the inadequate funding of health services for west Birmingham and for Sandwell.

The plan also involves proposals for a chain of community hospitals, including one placed somewhere like Witton. I like it in theory but get alarmed when they try to suggest that casualties could be diverted to these hospitals.

When I spoke at the council I reminded the council of some history. That when the General Hospital was closed in the early 90s, people were told city centre emergency services would be provided by Dudley Road Hospital, which was then renamed City Hospital. In addition a minor injuries unit was open on the site of the General Hospital. The minor injuries unit was hardly used and closed within a year or two.

There is already concern about the staffing of the five community hospitals. And once the public realise they are not open 24 hours they lose confidence in them and cease using them. Exactly the same fate as has befallen our local police station and neighbourhood office (which however continues to provide a good service to many people, I hasten to add). In addition, how is somebody with, say, a sprained ankle supposed to know which kind of hospital to use? How do they know whether it's just a muscle sprain or a broken bone?


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