Last Friday, I arranged for Simon Stevens the chief executive of NHS England to visit Grantham Hospital and meet with local doctors, managers and patients.
I have known Simon for more than 10 years and rate him highly as a man of great intelligence and integrity. I also know that he is passionate about the future of our NHS.
My main aim was to persuade the NHS’s most senior executive of the growing importance of district hospitals in delivering high quality healthcare close to where patients live. We all understand that technological advances mean that the most serious procedures in acute medicine are best delivered in larger centralised hospitals where they have the latest equipment and the most experienced consultants. But such procedures are becoming an ever smaller part of healthcare. As our population ages, the management of chronic conditions and the delivery of fairly routine treatments like chemotherapy is consuming an increasing share of the money we spend on the NHS. These kinds of healthcare are best delivered in facilities close to where the patient lives - ideally in their own home but if not in a modern GP surgery or a small district hospital like Grantham Hospital.
After nearly three hours of conversation on Friday afternoon I am totally confident that Simon Stevens is committed to a future in which more care is provided in community facilities like Grantham Hospital.
But one big question remains: will United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust be able to make it a reality?
I want ULHT to succeed and will work with it to develop new and improved services at Grantham Hospital. But if ULHT does not share our vision for the future of healthcare in Grantham or is not able to deliver it, then I will be calling up Simon Stevens and asking him to transfer control of Grantham Hospital to local GP commissioners so that we can give the people of Grantham the modern multipurpose hospital they deserve.