West Cumbrians VOICE for Healthcare was set up in September 2015 because a group of us were very concerned that major decisions were being made about health services without the involvement of the people of West Cumbria, or of those who work for the health service here. There were fears about the ‘asset-stripping’ of services from Whitehaven Hospital to Carlisle and a general feeling that things were ‘being done to us’, without giving us any say in the decisions.
Great work was being done by the ‘We Need West Cumberland Hospital’ campaign group and we are sure that the newly launched Whitehaven News campaign to ‘Fight For Our Hospital’ will gain a lot of support.
West Cumbrians VOICE for Healthcare strongly believes that the fight is not just for Whitehaven Hospital. It is not possible to look at problems with hospital services without also looking at all the other health and care services. Dr Barrie Walker, a member of VOICE, wrote a discussion paper “A New Model for Healthcare in West Cumbria” http://www.cumbriansvoiceforhealth.com/ which has been distributed to those who provide our health and care services and to community and healthcare groups.
We have had many meetings with decision-makers from the hospitals Trust, the Clinical Commissioning Group (who contract the hospitals and others to provide our healthcare) and other groups and individuals who we thought had useful information. We have asked questions to get to the root of issues and understand the statistics which are often used to justify decisions. We have again and again stressed that the people of West Cumbria should play a central role in the shaping of their health and care services.
A ray of hope appeared with the setting up of the Success Regime, charged by the Government with improving health services in west, north and east Cumbria. Their website http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/ states that this “…marks the start of a new era of improvement for local health and care services.”
However, Success Regime engagement with the public has been well below what was expected when it began its work in September 2015. We are told that the Success Regime will have a draft strategy by April 1st and, as we think likely, if there are major changes in the structure of health care in West, North and East Cumbria a formal public consultation will be required in the summer. The Care Quality Commission requires that the changes start to be implemented in September this year.
Patients, families, carers, NHS staff, voluntary groups and the public can and should play a positive role in shaping high quality care. We propose that the current Success Regime public engagement is just the start. The reconfiguration of our health and care services could take five years and the community should be well informed and involved in the process throughout. We will continue to push for a collaborative partnership between the people of West Cumbria and health and care providers. If we work together we could create an integrated healthcare system which could be a model for other parts of the UK.
On Tuesday 2 February the Chair of the Success Regime Sir Neil McKay will announce what progress has been made and in which direction the developments will be going.