By Cllr Maya de Souza
At Camden’s Health Scrutiny meeting on July 2, the Whittington Health’s Board were back following the heated meeting a few months ago, soon after the hospital’s mass sell-off proposal came to light, which led to a mass protest march.
Dr Greg Battle led the delegation and this time began with an exposition of the hospital’s clinical strategy. He said other strategies like estates were derived from it. But the clinical strategy is what the change is really about.
It was very well presented and the clinical plan seemed pretty persuasive, innovative in part. Councillors almost looked relieved. So did Tom Foot, the journalists who broke the news of the sell-off, sitting in the wings. Though one has to ask whether its really quite so easy to reduce costs in the health service, and if it were why this hasn’t happened before.
So this is the strategy. It has three elements:
- a. enhanced recovery: which means getting people active and fit earlier. No sitting around in expensive beds waiting to get better.
- b. ambulatory care : co-ordinating care so that patients can be turned round quickly. Dr Battle talked about avoiding “hospitalisation- associated disability” and a radically very different A&E experience which focused on avoiding people being admitted unless monitoring was needed.
- c. Integrated care: this means links from intensive care to mental health and social care. Dr Battle referred to the Haringey example, with real time telecoms with all relevant people. He explained that lower level care approaches like encouraging and supporting people to give up smoking can be more effective than other interventions.
There was a lot of other seemingly good stuff. But the best was a sort of assurance that beds wouldn’t be lost if they were needed. They’re expecting not to need quite as many beds but before trying to close any they will consult and will explore all options. The Board assured councillors they would only give up beds if not needed once the new approach had been tried out. They would adopt a flexible approach so beds will be available if needed.
This all looks good but people will want to hear more of this and see it in writing. Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition Chair, Shirley Franklin, was in attendance and said that the Board did intend to close down beds, and hospital was on red alert with 94% occupancy. Cllr Bryant, ordinarily a very fair chair, refused to let her speak, so we heard no more.
So it looks as of there is no longer a plan to do certain things within certain timeframe. There has been a partial rethink, not a complete rethink in my view.
We will need to keep a close eye on the detail, as the board’s interest in becoming a Trust will drive them to show a healthy financial state and may encourage bigger cuts than manageable. Also as commissioning becomes more GP-driven I fear the incentives will be against hospitals and for the services that GPs provide, again possibly all excessive pressure to reduce the size of hospitals.
But I think it’s fair for the campaigners including us Greens to claim a partial victory.