Andrew Barber, Brighton and Hove Socialist Party
A stormy meeting took place at Shoreham Civic Centre concerning the future of inpatient services at Southlands Hospital with 200 attending. There were ten speakers including a G.P., community and acute trust heads, and Tim Loughton, M.P. for Worthing East & Shoreham.
Proposals suggesting the closure of the Harness Block in-patient beds have met with anger from local campaigners. Sue Cook, quoted in the Shoreham Herald, explained: “…the Harness Block should be continued for use as community beds and not left to rot away until they decide to demolish and sell off. Not everyone can be nursed in their own homes and we need good community beds. Patients do not want to be sent to the other side of the county or be put into nursing homes at huge expense to their families. Once the in-patient beds have gone from Southlands, we will never get them back.”
The meeting questioned the motivations behind these proposals, the impact this closure would have on service users (West Sussex has the fourth oldest population in the country), and the impact on staff. A public consultation was staged a year ago at the hospital which had been an orthopaedic centre for this part of West Sussex along with stroke care provision. It was outlined that the lack of intensive care meant a 23 minute ambulance drive to Worthing in such circumstances. Indeed acute stroke care was moved to Worthing in August/September 2011 with stroke rehabilitation moving likewise in November 2011.
From the floor it was pointed out that Southlands is being starved of resources, many had not agreed with the consultation findings, and patients were now being discharged in to the community at a faster rate. Also, that it would be a big mistake to take palliative care beds away from the people of West Sussex when care in nursing homes is expensive and quite often unsatisfactory. Someone indicated they had attended a number of meetings and felt there is a lack of leadership from local and county councillors. It was queried as to why the building was up for sale if they are not going to close it, and that if are only 3 or 4 physiotherapists how do people get the daily care required.
According to an independent councilor [name?] the Harness Block is set to be sold for housing. Acute community beds will close and the loss will be widely felt as users come from such places as Fishersgate, Lancing, and Steyning. Trust executives concede sustainable care in the community needs to improve, or more definitively put by campaigner Sue Cook, it has been declared, “unfit for purpose”.
We were assured from the front table that the consultation is not about closing Southlands. Supposedly it has a viable future with four fantastic theatres, and a state of the art ophthalmology service on the horizon. It was claimed that change had never been finance driven but stemmed from the number of people dying at Southlands. Given the nature of palliative care deaths are inevitable. It was suggested that while the Royal Sussex County Hospital is modernised patients could be moved to Southlands as opposed to the Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath.
Enquiry was made as to the destiny of the staff with a current staff member stating that morale was being destroyed as they had worked as a team for many years and now faced being split up.
The case was cited of an 85 year old with an eye problem scheduled to attend appointments at Worthing Hospital but forced to attend at Chichester on the last two occasions, incurring bus fares of £32 in the process. This should also be seen in the context of bus service reduction. A retired local G.P. explained that care in the community can be a disaster particularly if there are no relatives to organise, increasingly patients were being pushed in to nursing homes, and the number of 999 emergency calls due to inappropriate discharge is rising. The Harness Block should be valued even more given the lack of provision for respite care elsewhere.
The absurdity was pointed out of an 80 year old travelling to Chichester for appointments when he lives directly opposite Southlands. We were informed that bed stock has to be used, ”effectively”, refurbishment would allow scope for the ophthalmology department, and that physiotherapy will be moved to Worthing.
Tim Loughton MP said that if he hadn’t fought to preserve Southlands and Worthing Hospitals previously we wouldn’t be having this meeting. However, he then went on to emphasise the need for a viable medical use for the Harness Block and to sell the notion of care in people’s own homes, also that we are in a, “different environment to 10 or 20 years ago”. He felt it safer for physiotherapy to be at one site, that the expertise of local clinicians had been referred to, whilst assuring us that overall it had, “nothing to do with reform of funding”.
Elsewhere from the front table it was stressed that whilst there has been significant investment in breast scanning at Worthing and orthopaedics at Chichester, the whole question of how we treat our older population with frailties and clinical history needs to be addressed. We were informed that ideas from the community are sought and that care for the elderly must improve. References were made to, “joined up and integrated care” and, “better value for the tax payer”.
A further public meeting was suggested though no date was confirmed. It is apparent that resources exist but there is a lack of political will. The sheer number of speakers at the front table allowed the vehement criticism to be deflected and absorbed more easily. Southlands Hospital is yet another victim of service reduction via stealth and the underlying privatisation agenda.
Without properly funded and run support networks care in the community can simply act as a cover for cuts. However a mass campaign involving patients, local residents and staff can succeed in stopping these plans. Every key meeting, should be lobbied along with protests. Members of staff must ensure they and their workmates have joined the trade union and commit their branch to a policy of fighting these attacks. Such a campaign has to be linked to the wider fight taking place across the country against the running down of public services, and the government’s ‘reforms’ of the NHS. To defend the NHS will require bold action from the trade unions, and would be hugely aided by the creation of a party based in and accountable to the working-class instead of the non-opposition provided by New Labour.