It’s now after midnight on 20 December 2016. The public consultation on proposals for our healthcare in west, north and east Cumbria has just finished. But this is by no way the end of the story – it’s just the beginning!
Cumbrian communities, the We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group, the media (papers, radio and TV), my medical colleagues in primary care, other colleagues from the West Cumberland Hospital, local politicians (councillors, MP’s), and other community representatives have pulled together in a huge effort to try to rescue us from what we all see as plans which would damage us, our families, our friends, our neighbours
I mustn’t forget my colleagues in Voice. I’ve never seen people work so hard! So many hours in meetings, doing research, writing reports, e-mails and letters. All done without fanfare, just pushing for more and better information to be made public and for more technical information which they could forensically investigate. I believe they’ve made a real difference which has helped with responses by others as well as informing our own very detailed response.
It’s time now to gather our thoughts and think of next steps. Most, if not all, of the problems of this consultation have their roots in national policy. The Success Regime was given the job of re-designing the most difficult to manage health area in England in a timeframe which didn’t allow for real community participation in shaping the plans.
I suppose it should have been foreseeable that that timescale meant we would end up with a process where proposals were dropped from on high on the day the consultation started (so where was the engagement?); looking to many like an exercise to tick the box which said ‘engagement and consultation completed’; leading to an increase, not a reduction, in the fear and anger which people felt; leading to Success Regime members increasingly having to publically defend plans which the public (and perhaps eventually some of them) found indefensible.
They have been given an impossible job imposed by a dysfunctional, underfunded health service where NHS England, and ultimately government, tries to force local managers and clinicians into making improbable decisions so they can wash their hand of them.
And of course it is not only happening in Cumbria. The cracks in the NHS are visible nationally. Many areas are becoming aware of the chronic underfunding, not just of the NHS, but of the even more desperate underfunding of Council run social care - the reason why many people languish in expensive hospital beds much longer than is good for them. This is the main reason for the overspend in our NHS.
I could go on, but what is important now is that we keep up the pressure on the decision makers locally, at the same time linking with others across England and Wales to present a case on the national media and to government nationally and regionally. This fight is not just our fight any more.