Anger and frustration as Cossham campaigners fail to get answers from health chiefs

Many people walked out in anger, some of them in tears

Many people walked out in anger, some of them in tears

There was uproar today after health chiefs revealed they are ploughing ahead with controversial plans to trial a minor injuries service in GP surgeries in South Gloucestershire – but still can’t give details of where, when and how it will work.

An estimated 200 people packed into the chamber at Kingswood Civic Centre following a rally in Kingswood Park this morning at which Reg Bennett, of the Re-formed Save Cossham Hospital Group, said the local Clinical Commissioning Group was going against the will of the 18,000+ people who have signed a petition calling for a minor injuries unit (MIU) to open at Cossham.

He said there was “no valid point” in trialling a minor injuries service. Instead “it must be in Cossham where it was promised”.

The refurbished hospital opened two years ago this month, but without an MIU. Since then Frenchay Hospital has closed, which means a journey to Southmead or Yate MIU for people living in and around Kingswood.

In November members of South Glos Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee said they were unhappy with the CCG’s alternative plan and would refer it to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. They were worried it would result in “inadequate provision for dealing with minor injuries” but held off sending the letter to give the CCG time to rethink.

However, at today’s meeting the CCG made it clear that it was going ahead with its trial but programme director Ben Bennett was jeered when he said that details of which surgeries would be taking part and when it would start would not be announced until February. “The spring” is the most detail that the CCG can give for the service to launch.

Having been told at a meeting in November that staff for the service would be recruited in December and that it would be up and running in the “new year” campaigners had expected to get some answers today and many walked out of the meeting, some in tears and others shouting “Shame on you”. The meeting had to be adjourned for several minutes until the situation had calmed down.

Jo McCarron at the rally

Jo McCarron at the rally

Among those who spoke in support of the campaign for an MIU at Cossham was Jo McCarron, who is standing in Kingswood for Labour at this year’s General Election, and Theo Clarke, who is standing for the Conservatives in Bristol East.

Both Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy and Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore were unable to attend today as they were in Parliament but both sent statements supporting the campaigners which were read out.

Although Cossham serves predominantly patients from South Gloucestershire, the hospital is just across the border in Bristol.

Mrs McCarron said that over the winter months residents had become increasingly frustrated and angry.

She said: “With every week and every month that the CCG considers and drafts and evaluates, we go without the urgent care services we were promised… Residents have not been given the answers they need to be convinced that the CCG’s alternative plans will work… People have become increasingly concerned about the clear strain local A&E departments have been under in recent weeks… On top of all this, there is the anxiety that comes from the decision to downgrade plans for the community hospital promised at Frenchay.”

And Theo Clarke said “Residents feel that they have been let down in regards to local healthcare provision. Both Chris Skidmore and I are both determined to keep fighting for what we know to be in the best interests of our community and we urge the CCG to honour the pledge and install a minor injuries unit at Cossham Hospital.”

Theo Clarke and Reg Bennett

Theo Clarke and Reg Bennett

Committee member Cllr Terry Walker (Labour, Kings Chase) said it was a “big disappointment” that no further details on the proposed minor injuries service had been forthcoming, and that the CCG was asking members to take a “step of faith” which they were not prepared to make.

The Health Scrutiny Committee voted unanimously to refer the CCG’s decision to be reviewed by the Health Secretary.

After the meeting, Dr Ann Sephton, Deputy Clinical Chair and Lead for Emergency and Urgent Care at the CCG, said: “The factors which led us to revisit the 2009 plans for an MIU are the significant additional cost an MIU would represent to the CCG and the fact that the alternative approach to providing minor injuries services in GP practices may provide a better alignment with our overall plan for improving urgent care services for the whole population – this is also consistent with the vision emerging from the national review.

“We therefore agreed that it would not be appropriate to amend our approach at this time.

“We have been looking at the best way to provide urgent care services in South Gloucestershire, providing services for the whole population, closer to where they live. In common with other parts of the country, we have been looking at whether enhancing the provision and capacity for urgent care, including minor injuries services in GP surgeries, could fulfil these requirements.

“Our decision on whether to commission an MIU at Cossham will therefore be made once we have tested this alternative approach.

“Our proposed pilot schemes for providing minor injury services in GP practices will give patients across South Gloucestershire access to minor injuries services closer to home.

“If this approach works well, minor injuries services would be available for patients through their GP surgery and the out-of-hours service.

“During the past few weeks we have made good progress in developing our plans for the pilots. Once the details are agreed and have been formally approved by the CCG, the pilots will be implemented on a fixed term basis and does not involve permanent contracts. We will work with our partners including North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT), Sirona – our community health provider – and BrisDoc, our GP out-of-hours provider.

“Further details on where and when the minor injuries pilots will be implemented are expected to be confirmed in February. Subject to agreeing these plans, we are planning for services to commence in the spring.”

Chris Skidmore MP pictured last year with Reg Bennett at Cossham

Chris Skidmore MP pictured last year with Reg Bennett at Cossham

Also speaking after the meeting lead campaigner Reg Bennett told The Week In: “The CCG say they have not ruled it (a unit) out at Cossham. They only reason is to stop us taking them to court – otherwise we would.”

Later in the day Mr Skidmore raised the issue in Parliament during a debate on the NHS when he said Cossham Hospital’s £19m refurbishment had a “gaping hole”, because the minor injuries unit that was promised was yet to be delivered.

“Having been promised this health resource in Kingswood after Frenchay A&E closed, we deserve to get it. It is too far to get round to the other side of Bristol and there are no proper bus services to Southmead Hospital,” he told MPs.

“Only today, there was a meeting of the Public Health & Health Scrutiny Committee of South Gloucestershire Council. On 19th November, I spoke at the committee in person to call for the decision about the minor injuries unit to be referred to the Secretary of State. The committee agreed in principle. I contacted the Department this week, having had regular meetings with the Health Secretary to discuss Cossham and Frenchay, only to find that no letter has been sent by the committee to the Health Secretary. Today, it turns out that the committee is yet to refer the decision to the Health Secretary. Without that official referral by the, the Health Secretary cannot refer the decision to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.

“I call on South Gloucestershire’s Public Health & Health Scrutiny Committee to get a move on, pull their finger out and send the letter to the Health Secretary. I hope Ministers will confirm that once they receive the letter, they will be able to refer the decision about Cossham minor injuries unit to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. It is simply not good enough for the committee to have this month-on-month delay without sending the referral letter to the Health Secretary.”

Read his speech in full at http://tinyurl.com/q5f4wmu