At a meeting of Bedford Borough Council on Wednesday 22nd February, Councillors unanimously passed a cross-party Motion to Full Council calling for the retention of essential A & E, paediatric and obstetric services at Bedford Hospital in the midst of an ongoing review.
Discussions to determine the future of health and social care services are taking place nationwide through the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) process. The local STP covers Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes and comprises 16 organisations including local authorities, GPs and hospitals and is led by Pauline Philip, the Chief Executive of the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital.
The STP will outline plans to amalgamate services across the Bedford, Milton Keynes and Luton & Dunstable Hospital sites. Cllr Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for Public Health supported the principle of the integration of health & social care, and reported that officers were working hard on the ‘prevention’ workstream of the STP.
Cllr Jackson said: “Better integration of health and social care can improve patient experience and help us to make the best use of local resources, we need to tackle rising demand for health and care services.”
“I want to see prevention embedded in everything that we do across the Council, and everything that our partners in health do, and the STP has given us an opportunity to do that.”
However, during the debate concerns were expressed by Councillors of all parties about the future of Bedford Hospital and its core services, and the lack of democratic involvement in decision making.
Councillor Jackson continued on this topic: “As elected members we’re trying to do our job here of scrutinising the STP, and it really is starting to feel like the people who are set to make the biggest decisions about our local hospital hold elected members of this authority in contempt.”
“Last autumn I came away from a meeting with Pauline Philip, the Chief Executive of the L&D and other STP leads feeling really quite positive – Pauline and her team agreed to put out a statement that would finally put the Bedford & Milton Keynes Healthcare Review to bed, confirming there would be no removal of maternity services at Bedford and committing to retaining the core services that we need here in Bedford.”
“At the next meeting we didn’t get what we had been promised. A set of draft statements were put before us that didn’t reflect what I understood had been agreed at the previous meeting, and didn’t reflect what the Mayor understood had been agreed at the previous meeting.”
“We weren’t allowed to take them away with us. We weren’t allowed to publish them. The next two meetings were cancelled, both with only a few hours’ notice.”
“Nationally these STP areas were drawn up with no local consultation – like every other local authority up and down the country we were just told who we were bundled in with – that was the first big mistake that NHS England made.”
“We’re now being directed by a group of people who are on the payroll of just one of the three hospitals serving this area. The decision about who should lead the STP for our area was the second big mistake. It should never have been a provider leading this. There’s potentially a major conflict of interest and there needs to be a mechanism for declaring that.”
“I want to see a real commitment to retaining our core services at Bedford and a recognition that reducing beds and services at a time when hospitals are already full to capacity will not work. What we have to focus on is changing how people access the services that we have, and focus on prevention and integration so that demand won’t continue to rise. NHS decision makers have got to work with us.”
Cllr Randolph Charles also spoke about the importance of robust and accessible mental health services, and reported that he had heard similar frustrations about transparency of the STP process expressed by colleagues in Essex.
In a joint statement, Elected Mayor of Bedford Dave Hodgson and Group Leaders (Cllr Stephen Moon – Leader, Bedford Borough Conservative Group; Cllr Sue Oliver - Leader, Bedford Borough Labour Group; Cllr Wendy Rider - Leader, Bedford Borough Liberal Democrat Group; Cllr Pat Olney - Leader, Bedford Borough Independent Group) said:
‘The intention of the STP to better integrate health and social care services is one we can all support given the opportunity for significant, long-term improvements to services.
‘There has been, however, a worrying lack of progress so far and minimal partnership working and engagement with elected representatives and the public, exacerbated by a lack of transparency in the STP process.
‘We are deeply concerned about the absence of a commitment from the NHS organisations leading the STP to retain vital services at Bedford Hospital. Bedford Borough’s population is growing and we must have a robust, accessible health and social care system which reflects this.
‘We are calling on NHS partners to commit both to greater transparency and engagement and to protect core services at Bedford Hospital including consultant-led A&E, paediatrics and obstetrics.’