Campaigners for a minor injuries unit at Cossham Hospital have been left frustrated after health chiefs asked to meet with them to explain new plans to trial the service in GP surgeries – but could not answer their questions.
Meanwhile Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore has called for two trials to run now simultaneously – one at Cossham and one in a local surgery – to see what works best.
South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group is planning to trial a minor injuries service in GP surgeries, rather than opening the long-awaited unit at Cossham, but as yet cannot say which surgeries will be involved.
Staff will need to be recruited to run the service and it looks unlikely that the trial will start until some time in the New Year.
Nearly two years since Cossham reopened following its £19m refit – and without the minor injuries unit (MIU) that was part of the 2009 business plan – campaigners are angry that the CCG still does not have firm plans for dealing with minor injuries, particularly as Frenchay Hospital closed in May.
Over 16,000 people have signed petitions calling for the MIU at Cossham. A decision had been expected this autumn but instead the CCG is planning to pilot the scheme in GP surgeries and assess how it works before coming to a final conclusion.
Dr Jonathan Hayes, clinical lead at the CCG, and Ben Bennett, the programme director, met a small group of campaigners led by Reg Bennett on Thursday. But because the health leaders had not yet met GPs to thrash out the plans for implementing the service, they were unable to give answers about where, when and how it will operate.
An angry Reg Bennett said: “This meeting is a farce because you don’t have any answers for us.”
He said people could not understand why the CCG was still just thinking about what to do and called for the minor injuries unit to be trialled at Cossham, where the space is already reserved. This was also favoured by Jo McCarron, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Kingswood, who was at the meeting as an observer.
She told health chiefs that the campaigners had come to the meeting hoping for answers. She told them: “You can see the frustration. We need reassurance that we will get answers soon.”
Dr Hayes said he appreciated the frustration but stressed that the MIU was a “relatively small part of the jigsaw puzzle of urgent care” and that the CCG had to make the best use of resources for the 266,000 residents of South Gloucestershire.
Dr Hayes: “We are trying to do the best for everyone. We are trying to work out a plan for the best possible set of services.”
He said the landscape had changed since the 2009 business plan for Cossham was drawn up, including a rise in the local population, more elderly patients, a change of Government and a change in the economy.
MIUs can only treat minor injuries and do not treat minor illnesses. There are no doctors at such units ,which are staffed by specially trained emergency nurse practitioners. When they were first set up a decade ago it was expected that they would relieve the burden on A&E departments but evidence has shown that has not been the case.
The estimated cost of providing an MIU at Cossham has been put at just under £1m a year.
Dr Hayes said that was now being planned in South Gloucestershire was a minor injuries service in local surgeries closer to people’s homes, with the added benefit of doctors on the premises, providing a more “holistic approach”.
He pointed out that the CCG had been able to provide “over and above” what was in the business plan for Cossham, including a wounds dressing clinic, which operates at weekends and bank holidays, and a rapid access clinic for frail elderly patients. The out-of-hours service BrisDoc has also been based at Cossham since the closure of Frenchay.
Although Cossham serves mostly people living in South Gloucestershire (80%), it lies just across the county boundary in Bristol. Campaigners asked whether Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group was making similar plans for a minor injuries service in the absence of the MIU opening at the hospital.
Ben Bennett said it was a good point and he would be following that up with Bristol CCG.
The Cossham campaigners took a stall at the senior citizens’ fair at Kingswood Community Centre on Friday, organised by Chris Skidmore, to rally support for this Wednesday’s meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s Public Health & Health Scrutiny Committee, which will be considering a report from South Glos CCG.
Mr Skidmore, who has been a staunch supporter of the campaigners, said: “The CCG need to get their act together and trial the service at both Cossham and a surgery, perhaps Cadbury Heath.”
At least 200 Cossham campaigners are expected to attend Wednesday’s meeting which is at 10am at Kingswood Civic Centre. They will be holding a rally first in Kingswood Park at 9.30am.
The scrutiny committee has the power to refer the CCG’s decision to the Secretary of State for Health if it is unhappy.