Ten years ago Grantham had a fully operational and viable district hospital with an accident and emergency unit, a children’s ward and a consultant-led midwifery unit.
Bit by bit, ‘reasonable’ representatives from the hospital and some supporting politicians have ‘justified’ the ‘centralisation’ of acute services.
When implementing change it is vital to draw a benchmark and measure how we are doing. Key decision-makers are treating each new swathe of management or government term as the point at which they look. They are not recognising the overall impact on our local services. Maybe for a reason.
A Kings Fund report is covered by the National Health Executive (NHE) magazine, with a headline that reads ‘critical pressures in NHS workforce put Five Year Forward View in danger’. There are national critical shortages in qualified hospital medical staff and GPs.
Whilst the Government is turning to ‘care in the community’ nearly a third of all GPs will be retiring over the next five years, and, as many have opted to reduce their working hours, GP recruitment is lagging far behind. The number of nurses and other frontline medical staff has also decreased resulting in overseas recruitment drives.
At the county council ULHT review I raised concerns regarding the impact of restructuring proposals on Grantham. Some reassurance was provided that distance will be a factor in future plans but few details were provided.
When I pushed the point after meeting, the presenting officer made it clear this issue is not the top ULHT priority. He explained that of 30 consultant positions across our county only four permanent consultants are working.
The hospital trust is reliant on assistance from locum consultants who are expensive and can pick and choose when and where they will work.
Thanks to existing inequalities in the funding of healthcare in our region, there was already pressure on the ULHT budget. Under this government the situation has significantly worsened. A year ago we were told that the trust faced a future £100m shortfall in funds. This month we were told the figure has leaped to over a £300m future shortfall across the county’s healthcare bodies. This legacy will put a huge pressure on the next government to protect our health services.
The inequalities in funding our national healthcare service, the relationship between the NHS, hospital trusts and key medical staff need to be addressed.
There is no easy or quick solution.
It needs a government totally committed to our NHS, rather than cost cutting exercises, to save it.