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Wycombe’s woes get national prominence
12:12pm Friday 22nd June 2012 in Editor's Chair
IT’S taken me eight years, but last week I managed to gain an audience with the Health Secretary to tell him of the public’s ‘fear, anger and disillusionment’ over changes at Wycombe Hospital since 2004.
The picture shows me sharing a joke with Andrew Lansley as we posed for the cameras, but the half hour meeting we held in Whitehall was deadly serious.
I went with members of the campaign committee, Save Our Hospital Services, a cross-party non-political group I set up in 2004 in response to plans at the time to transfer services including inpatient maternity to Stoke Mandeville.
History will show we failed all those years ago, despite petitions to two Health Secretaries, Dr John Reid and Patricia Hewitt. The main maternity and children’s services moved to Aylesbury along with emergency trauma, despite a massive outcry in the Wycombe district.
Every passionate argument was trumped by the fact the transfers were seen to be safer given that Wycombe is apparently not a big enough population centre to allow the traditional model of a general hospital to continue.
We reached the risible situation whereby an elderly woman fell and injured her hip INSIDE Wycombe Hospital, but had to be taken to Stoke Mandeville.
My committee disbanded after the first transfers. Then, in 2010, we reformed again with me as chairman after I was approached by people asking for it to be revived.
A little while later, health officials announced their “Better Healthcare in Buckinghamshire” exercise which ultimately involved transferring more services to Aylesbury – while at the same time concentrating on certain key specialisations in Wycombe.
In truth, not all of the proposals are bad. Our committee has never objected to specialisation if it improves patient outcomes. What alarms us is the continual policy to divide services, so Wycombe and Stoke Mandeville are effectively one large hospital on two sites.
The transport between the two towns has never been properly resolved despite lots of fine words over many years, and a large number of people are extremely worried by this.
The lack of democracy in the NHS was highlighted by the consultation process. Health officials presented seven proposals but publicly ruled every one out apart from the one they favoured. They even dismissed keeping the status quo.
This left the public bewildered at the various consultation meetings when they turned up to find just one option on the table.
In fairness, officials listened to our readers and the public and agreed to make the new Wycombe urgent care unit 24/7 at our behest. But the main thrust of the plans went ahead.
We raised much of this last week with Mr Lansley. My committee asked me to address him, and he listened carefully.
But, as he stressed, this is a local matter and he cannot really interfere. After some discussion, he agreed to send an official from the Strategic Health Authority to check how the consultation process was handled in line with the tests he sets. This, he said, would involve talking to our committee, so we were delighted with this outcome.
In the end, it may not come to very much because the die has been cast on the latest wave of transfers. But it does mean a Health Secretary has heard first hand of some of the fury you the readers have felt.
It means that Wycombe’s woes have gained national prominence and that hopefully it will be all the harder for the NHS to take away any further services – although nothing would surprise me.
Our committee has met with countless officials during the consultation process. The message from them has been that it is nigh impossible for Wycombe to have maternity and trauma ever returned.
I actually don’t believe that. Because one day I know someone will see sense and give us back what we have lost. It won’t be tomorrow, but it will happen hopefully within a generation.
Meeting the Health Secretary was a small step in a very long road. But one day they are going to hand back our hospital just as we want it.
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