The Alex was the number one issue during the recent election campaign, and as a parliamentary candidate, and now a newly elected MP I quickly understood why people are concerned and anxious and feel let down.
After having full services including maternity and an Accident and Emergency department for under-16s at the site for many years local families come to rely upon them, and to see them removed is very hard to understand.
People also don’t want to travel out of the local area, and not everyone has a car, and the parking can be an issue when you get to Worcester Royal. Even a simple accident on the M5 can cause long delays, and this kind of uncertainty is the last thing a mother in labour, or a parent with a sick child, needs to be thinking about as they make their way to Worcester.
Likewise, when you’re a parent and you have to leave your child in hospital overnight you want to be close to them.
People in Redditch also think that as the town is growing, they should have all these services ready for the future population. They point to new housing developments in our area and worry that this will make services stretched in future.
During the election campaign and after, I’ve talked to thousands of people, who raised this with me. I remember one young Mum, who broke down in tears, saying that she had moved to Redditch specifically because of the Alex, so that she could start a family. She has a condition meaning that if she goes into labour, she is at very high risk, and would need extremely fast access to a maternity unit. She is now unwilling to get pregnant again, even though she would like a second child, for fear that she would not be able to get to the Worcestershire Royal in time.
There is also a fear that somehow this situation means the Alex will be closed in future. Let me be clear, the proposals do not, at any stage, recommend that the Alex is closed.
But the process of consultation itself has led to a lot of confusion and uncertainty over the hospital, about what services are delivered where, and has made it ultimately more difficult for the hospital at times to recruit and retain the staff it needs to deliver services safely.
Doctors and nurses who work there have told me this themselves.
As a mother myself to four children I truly understand all of these concerns.
Many people have called on me to get these services returned.
As an MP it’s my job to represent you, and I will always do my best in that regard, I understand very clearly that you are my boss, and you have put me in Parliament to do a job on your behalf, and I take that sacred trust extremely seriously.
It’s also important to understand what I, or any MP, of any party, regardless of the colour of the government, simply cannot do, no matter how hard they try.
A Member of Parliament doesn’t run the health services in an area, they don’t commission services and nor do they decide how to keep patients safe. These decisions are made, quite rightly in my view by clinicians and the professionals in the NHS who have first hand experience to call on, and who have dedicated their career to serve the healthcare needs of our nation.
In the past, the health service has been under the control of ministers of the Government. This led to appalling failures of care such as Mid Staffs, something that should never happen again in our country.
Now we are expecting to see the outcome of the consultation process, put to the board of the the CCG, next week. The proposals are no surprise, they have been publicly available for some time now. You can read them here:
I have been asked whether or not I support these proposals.
I have been your MP for only a month, and have not had any opportunity to influence decisions taken in the past, before I was elected.
The events leading up to removal of services have been existing for many years now, and have been fully outlined in the CCG documents.
Let me be clear. I cannot support any proposal that removes services from Redditch, in favour of having them delivered at the Worcestershire Royal, against the wishes of Redditch people.
And it is clear that people in Redditch did not support this either.
For instance, the business case shows that 3,206 survey responses were received and that Redditch was very well represented in these responses. Indeed, it notes that compared to all Worcestershire residents the respondents were more like to live in Redditch and have had experience of using the services at the Alex.
In the consultation, 81% of respondents opposed the centralisation of maternity services to Worcestershire Royal. Similarly, for children’s inpatient services 80% were opposed.
The consultation itself I understand to be deeply flawed. It was not a true consultation in that it did not give any option for services to be returned.
While I understand that there are good clinical and safety reasons for services to be consolidated, I think it is unfair for local people to be asked to give their views, which would naturally lead them to think that they might have an influence over the outcome, to find that their views are ignored.
I am deeply unhappy that this situation exists. I will be writing in the strongest possible terms to the CCG register my disappointment both with the way that the consultation was done, effectively not giving people any choice, and then ignoring the overwhelming view of the people of Redditch who favoured not transferring services to Worcester.
I want to know what their response to this is, and what they intend to do in the future to meet the needs of the projected population growth, or any other changes that occur in the population.
I will be seeking reassurances that the level of services provided is right for the size of the town in the future.
I also want to be kept fully informed of any future decisions on service changes, and will be asking the CCG to review their consultation process so that it commands the confidence of the public.
This will be a continual dialogue and I will keep people informed of the responses.
So it’s clear, that most local people don’t agree with the CCG proposals, and we are now in a situation where the proposals will be put to the public meeting.
Regardless of whether I support the proposals or not however, I am realistic. After five years of this process being dragged out, we don’t want to see more damaging uncertainty.
The Secretary of State for Health will not be overturning the recommendations of the CCG. His role is to task the CCG to deliver services to the local population to achieve the best clinical outcomes for them. In my meeting with him, and Health Minister Philip Dunne, they have made it clear to me that Alex and the WAHT are the top of the list for investment, and are a personal priority for them.
But this has never meant returning services that they have had to remove, on safety or sustainability grounds, because they will be led by the CCG recommendations, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
Nor does it mean providing every service to every single hospital up and down the country, when health outcomes are improved by increased specialisation.
And while being frustrated with the negative aspects of this process, it’s important to recognise the positives also. The proposals will lead to benefits for Redditch:
– A new urgent care centre, sometimes known as a walk-in centre, that will be open to adults and children 24 hours a day
– A dedicated new women’s centre with gynaecology/daycase and outpatient facilities.
– Upgraded operating theatres so that the Alex can become a centre of excellence for planned surgery.
– A new children’s outpatient department.
– Improved endoscopy facilities.
We also have to understand that the way health services are being delivered up and down the country is changing. Its no longer the case that every town the size of Redditch has a full service hospital in the town, with maternity, full Accident and Emergency department, and every other speciality. There are places much larger than Redditch that don’t have these facilities and where people have to travel.
This is because increased specialisation, with access to equipment, staff, and technology, does mean patients ultimately get better care, and more lives are saved, an outcome we can all surely agree is in our best interests in the long term.
And I, as one MP, or even working together with other Worcestershire MPs, would not be able to get the consultation re-opened. So my opposition would not achieve anything by itself.
Given this, I have a choice about what I do now to represent you. I can protest and campaign, chain myself to the railings, demonstrate on the streets. This would achieve nothing, as we have seen from events and campaigns in the past. It simply does not work.
Or I can acknowledge people’s legitimate anger, frustration and disappointment, but work together with those making the decisions, to achieve a better long term outcome for Redditch people.
This is not an easy choice, and I accept that whatever course I choose I will be criticised. But I will always promise you to be honest with you, and tell you the truth. There is nothing to be gained by my promising to deliver things that I cannot deliver.
And I know from talking to staff at the Alex, doctors and nurses, who work there, that they are very concerned about the way that the Alex has suffered from the uncertainty being dragged out. They also want to see an end to the speculation in the press and on social media about its future, so they can get on with their jobs. And the leadership of the WAHT need to be able to work hard to get the Trust out of special measures. Dragging the consultation on would have a negative impact on their ability to do this. This is because they need the cash investment that would follow if the CCG proposals are approved, to be able to improve services in Worcestershire that Redditch people use.
I have therefore decided to take the latter approach, i.e. to work closely to hold those responsible for delivering what they promised, to make it very clear the strength of feeling of local people, and to ensure that in future, we take a different approach.
The Alex is my number one priority as your MP, which is why I have already asked questions in Parliament, why I’ve secured a debate next week in Parliament, and why I’ve held meetings with Jeremy Hunt, the CCG and the WAHT.
I am as passionate as you about making the Alex the best it can be, protecting the services that are there, and seeing the new promised services being delivered quickly. We are very lucky to have the Alex in Redditch, and lucky to have such fantastic care on our doorsteps.
Please feel free to contact me at any time with your concerns over our local health services. It’s best to do this by email so that your query can be properly recorded and tracked, and so that I can give you a full answer. Although I take the time to read your Facebook comments, I cannot respond to them all and there is no way for me to officially record them. If you want your comments or concerns to be ‘on record’ please email them to [email protected]