The NHS: Hugo sets out local priorities
Hugo Fearnley sets out his priorities for local health services, and explains that the Conservatives have no clear plan to protect Scarborough and Whitby hospitals:
Since I became Labour candidate for Scarborough and Whitby, I’ve listened to people all over the constituency telling me of their worries about the future of the NHS, and their concerns about social care provision.
I know there are widespread fears about the future of Whitby and Scarborough hospitals. Local people are anxious about whether treatment they may need will be available without having to travel a long distance to another hospital – and whether an overstretched ambulance service can meet demand. They have concerns about long waiting times to see a GP, and whether care services can cope with the increasing numbers of older people in this constituency. They also worry about potential plans for privatising the NHS as part of a future Conservative trade deal with Donald Trump’s America.
The Conservative Government has chronically underfunded the NHS throughout their decade in power. They refuse to commit the necessary resources to ensure the long-term future of our most vital and cherished institution. The NHS keeps going only because of the unwavering loyalty and commitment of front-line staff, working above and beyond the call of duty to deliver care under hugely difficult conditions.
My focus will be to deliver Labour’s manifesto pledge to invest an extra £26bn in the NHS by 2023-24. Our local hospitals in Scarborough and Whitby must no longer be penalized by the extra costs arising from being in a rural area, in particular the difficulties recruiting and retaining permanent staff. A recent report from the Nuffield Trust has described NHS funding for rural areas as ‘unclear, unfair and failingto fully compensate remote and rural areas for the extra costs they face’.
Integrating health and social care is one of Labour’s priorities, and we pledge free personal care according to need. Joined-up care will free up hospital beds for those who need them, with elderly people who are ready to leave hospital moving on in a dignified way.
I feel very strongly about the need to invest in mental health services, especially for young people. 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14, and 75% by age 24. If we do not address the crisis in mental health now, we damage individuals’ lives and store up social and economic problems for the future. I am fully committed to securing parity of esteem between mental and physical health.
Scarborough and Whitby hospitals
Scarborough and Whitby hospitals each serve the local urban population and an extensive rural area. People do not expect to travel long distances for routine assessments and appointments, minor procedures or treatments.
Centres of excellence do, of course, make sense when specialist treatment is needed and usually this means referral to one of the bigger teaching hospitals such as York or James Cook in Middlesbrough.
But in practice this can work only if people are able to access care without difficulty. Our poor transport links make this very difficult for elective surgery, especially considering the number of procedures cancelled at short notice. With emergency care things are even more problematic. Tory cuts to the ambulance service have left it understaffed and underfunded, so response time targets are regularly missed.
Scarborough Hospital has shed a whole raft of services in recent years. The loss of breast cancer outpatient services has been keenly felt by local women. Around 600 patients a year must now travel to York or Hull for appointments. Acute stroke services and maxillo-facial surgery have gone, as has the midwifery-led unit supporting women giving birth in a ‘home-from-home’ environment. Opthalmology and ENT services are no longer available 24/7.
Clinics closed or reduced include Epilepsy, the Pain clinic, Breast clinic ‘one-stop shop’, along with Orthopedic pre-joint replacement, adult neurology and adult therapy. In addition, Surgery, Radiology and Accident & Emergency services are suffering strain from under-staffing.
Scarborough Hospital was recently rated as ‘requiring improvement’ by the CQC. The CQC report highlights a number of problems, some relating to staffing: ‘Nursing and medical staffing did not always meet planned staffing levels. There was a heavy reliance on bank and agency nursing staff. There was a reliance on locum doctors to fill gaps in the medical rota.’ It concludes that service pressures and staffing issues are having a detrimental effect on staff morale and wellbeing.
The report from the Nuffield Trust says that Scarborough is one of six hospitals whose finances are so precarious that, taken together, these six account for nearly a quarter of the health service’s total deficit.
The Conservative MP claims that Scarborough hospital’s future is secure. When Health Minister Matt Hancock visited Scarborough during the election campaign he announced a £40m investment in a new type of A&E facility (the real amount is actually £22m because £18m of this funding is actually earmarked for general infrastructure upgrading).
However, it is hard to find details about exactly how this money will be spent. The new A&E facility is described as an Assessment Centre from which patients will be transferred. But it’s not clear how much of their subsequent care might be available on-site, and how much might involve transfers to other distant hospitals.
A key factor in this will be availability of staff at Scarborough Hospital, and this must be a serious concern in the light of on-going staff shortages and problems in recruiting and retaining staff.
Investment in new equipment and facilities is useless without investment in staff.
A&E is only part of Scarborough hospital, and public concern also focusses on thelocal services being axed and moved to other hospitals, especially to York. We’ve heard no guarantee of an end to cuts and restoration of services in Scarborough.
Meanwhile, the redevelopment of Whitby Hospital will see in-patient services focussed almost exclusively on patients needing palliative or end-of-life care, or with complex long-term conditions. There will be 19 beds in this new in-patient ward.
While Whitby Hospital does provide physiotherapy and district nursing services, the Maternity Unit shut some time ago and the Minor Injuries Unit provides only a limited range of services within set opening hours.
The historic decline of services at Whitby Hospital makes it all the more important to preserve a full range of facilities at Scarborough, as the nearest larger-scale hospital.
‘Whitby has been my local hospital all my life’, says Hugo. ”Of course it’s encouraging to see investment in the local hospital. But Mr Goodwill boldly claims the redevelopment to be a “major turning point” for our hospital while the reality, as even Mr Goodwill admits, is that this step will result in fewer beds and no major investment in wider community services.’
‘What’s more, the CCG is not prepared to guarantee that radiology will survive. Real and significant improvement will only happen with serious and sustained investment and an end to the internal market. We need a party in government that backs our NHS, and that’s the party that created our NHS.’