We can all make a difference : Poole Council DCCG referral letter to Secretary of State 9th Jan 2018

As released Friday 9th January Poole Council has – finally – written to the Secretary of State, supporting Dorset council referral in November, opposing relocation of Poole A&E and Poole maternity to RBH Bournemouth site.

But then it has to be said this could have all been done a year ago at the Dorset, Poole, Bournemouth, Joint Scrutiny Health committee meeting, 12th December 2017.

Nothing has changed in Dorset NHS plans during the last year. It was known over a year ago that DCCG commissioners plan is to move Poole A&E and maternity to Bournemouth, whilst Poole would become the centre for planned care.

There was then uproar and outrage in Poole and into rural Dorset at the prospect of losing Poole A&E and maternity. Lengthy petitions were signed as far back as 2016 into 2017.

That the motion to refer did not happen December 2017 falls then squarely on Poole cabinet policy, and on two Poole Cllrs : Cllr Jane Newell and Cllr Vishal Gupta. Instead of voting for referral, along with Dorset Cllrs and one Poole Lib Dem Cllr, they abstained from voting. Thus the all critical vote for referral was lost (6 – 4).

So much waste of good time and huge effort. All Poole Cllrs voted July 2017 to support keeping Poole A&E and maternity in Poole, but then when it comes to the crucial vote that counts, in the Joint Scrutiny committee Dec 2017, two of our three Poole Cllrs abstain throwing the whole issue back a whole year.

The Poole Referral Letter – January 2019

The letter that has now been written to the Secretary of State has then been signed off by scrutiny committee chair Jane Newell, along with cabinet Cllr for Health and Care, Karen Rampton, and council leader Janet Walton : Poole Referral letter to Secretary of State Matt Hancock.

And that said it is good to see a strongly worded uncompromising letter, in support of Poole A&E and maternity : “The Borough of Poole elected members decided that it was imperative to support the Dorset’s Health Scrutiny Committee Referral to the Secretary of State” (my bold).”

Well done Poole Cllrs – but then “imperative” ? – this is extraordinary. Nothing has changed in eighteen months in DCCG plans to relocate Poole A&E and maternity, yet we have gone in our council from full support of A&E and maternity (July 2017), to abstaining from referral (Cllrs Newell and Gupta Dec 2017), back now with “an imperative” to refer Dec 2018.

The all important truth then of this whole issue, Poole Council (Poole cabinet) would never have referred this issue to the Secretary of State, in support of Dorset council, but for the huge efforts of Defend Dorset NHS.

It is DDNHS campaigners that brought to the attention of all of us in Poole more widely that major changes to NHS provision, that “adversely affect the local population”, could be referred to the Secretary of State for independent review. Outside of council circles no-one knew this, and within council it seems few Cllrs knew.

All credit then to Poole People, Mark Howell, and Independent Cllr Marion Pope, and Liberal Democrats Sandra Moore and Vikki Slade, and others, in then getting the motion onto council agendas in October. And all credit to Poole Labour Party who have steadfastly supported keeping A&E and maternity in Poole for three years.

But we should have no doubt about it, on all the evidence of meetings over a year, Poole Tory cabinet would never have actioned this referral but for the enormous pressure from campaigners, and the opposition groups bringing the issue to council.

Grounds for Referral – nothing new in eighteen months :

The grounds in the letter for referral : all that has been screamed, written, shouted, petitioned, lobbied, for near two years. Astounding that it has taken so much huge energy – and huge costs – for Poole Conservative Cllrs to finally agree with the mass population : we cannot in a conurbation of our size lose one of our two major A&E centres, nor our major Poole maternity centre.

The committee in referral cite “travel times” with risk to life. Yes. Absolutely. What Defend Dorset NHS has been saying for two years.

Safer and better access to Poole hospital than RBH : Yes – absolutely. What everyone has been saying for the past two years.

Increase in ambulance conveyance times : Yes. This has been said in dozens of Echo letters and in so many meetings.

However : anomalies in the letter, referring to “further and recent studies undertaken into travel times”.

To my knowledge there have been no further recent studies. I suspect this is pure invention, or interpretation. It’s been known emphatically for over a year there would be higher risks to life travelling longer distances. Everyone in the town knows congestion is getting worse by the year.

Also claims from the scrutiny committee “national standards for the timescales of ambulance have changed”. This claim is then highly suspicious to say the least. More to the point as factual information has circulated, making clear response times to the Purbecks, for instance, will be around one and half hours, with then increased loss of life, even the most compliant DCCG supporting Cllrs have been forced to accept closing Poole A&E and maternity places in jeapardy the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands in Poole and rural Dorset.

Also reference from the committee to maternity services. That this service is all moving to RBH has been well known for at least eighteen months yet a big play is made in the letter, from chair of the committee Cllr Jane Newell, that maternity moving to RBH is new information, and in that respect justifying referral Dec 2018 which was not supported at the Joint Scrutiny meeting December 2017.

Amazing changes of view from these Cllr (the Tory group running the council). No changes in the plans in eighteen month as to what is planned by Dorset NHS yet from these Cllrs we have a 180 degree change in support : inaction and silence for over a year to now full on imperative referral.

The group in the letter clearly trying to sell the position that it is “new information” that now justifies referral. Claiming DCCG plans, and research, and national standards, have “changed”, when this is clearly not the case. All that has changed is the view of Poole Tory Cllrs. They have at long last come round to the view of the vast majority of our town and rural Dorset. That they have is then to the greatest credit to DDNHS group getting out to the public, and to Cllrs, the critical information to call to account Dorset Commissioners.

To cite two lead Conservative Cllrs (clearly speaking for Tory policy) seeking to undermine public support for referral :

Karen Rampton, cabinet Cllr for Health and Care. The Cllr tells us Echo letter 15th December, in a call for “Hard Facts and Evidence”, the “24/7 urgent care unit in Poole is an A&E all but in name as 80% of current visitors will be treated there …” and “journey times are not an issue for Poole residents, many of the current maternity services will remain in Poole”.

These statement are then 100% palpably wrong and in that grossly misleading, yet this is what the senior Cllr for Health and Care in Poole published to misinform public opinion Dec 15th, days before the scrutiny meetings 17th Dec. From the meeting then full-on change of view from this Cllr, we need “imperative referral”, on the very points the Cllr was telling us days earlier were all fine : A&E, travel times, and maternity.

How shocking this is how our politics works in the 21st century, that it takes enormous work and effort by a campaign group – at zero public cost – to endlessly petition Cllrs (cabinet Cllr £22,000 a year) to read major documents and think through, themselves, what they are talking about. Not simply repeat what they are told by NHS commissioners.

Cllr D’Orton-Gibson : this Cllr is chair of Bournemouth Health and Care Scrutiny committee. To the best of my knowledge, for the first time in local authority history, the chair of such a committee took it on himself to write in to a Secretary of State seeking to undermine the health care of an adjoining authority, in this case Poole. Telling the Secretary of State that any referral was “unwarranted.

What Cllr d’Orton-Gibson has had to say, in his letter to the Secretary of State, and in Bournemouth Echo letters, all enormously inaccurate to say the least (guessology), has ended up in complete contradiction to the combined views of Poole Cllrs in Poole’s letter of referral. But then Cllr d’Orton-Gibson, prior to the Poole meeting in December, was clearly working in close cooperation with Poole Tory Cllrs : using the very same DCCG supporting phrasing that Poole Tory Cllrs were using, prior to their Road to Damascus conversions in the Dec 17th meeting.

All of which is to say and make the point these Cllrs – Poole and Bournemouth Conservatives working together – made every effort they could to turn public opinion against referral. And worse again using blatantly misleading misinformation. Over a year silence on the issue from Poole Conservative cabinet, followed then by last ditch attempts to undermine public support and commitment to keep Poole A&E and Poole maternity in Poole, as being called for by near the entire population.

Lessons Learnt ?

There is however perhaps some mitigation for criticism of Poole and Bournemouth Tory Cllrs, defending Dorset commissioners plans, that they have been reciting the pledges, and claims, and promises, made by DCCG. The source of all the misinformation. DCCG compliant with government budgets as a matter of fact working to take £147 million (projected £157 million 2022) out of Dorset NHS operational budgets.

But, and critically, not making these huge operational budget cuts clear to Cllrs, or the public. Instead marketing centralisation plans, with huge run-down in services (closure of Poole A&E and maternity, loss of hundreds of beds, closure of community hospitals), as major “investment”. That then a partial truth, cloaked in carefully crafted misleading misinformation for two years.

But then insofar as Tory Cllrs have been supporting DCCG plans, the point of the whole issue is that it is the duty of elected Cllrs to scrutinise – challenge, question, and challenge again – any and all policies that are going to affect local population. But Poole Tory Cllrs didn’t do this, for eighteen months. Instead they compliantly accepted DCCG plans.

In eighteen months no efforts made to convene a scrutiny meetings to scrutinise DCCG plans, until forced to do so by public opinion.

And the conclusions here – insofar as there are any :

We need Cllrs who sign up to front-line support local people in our towns. We don’t want Cllrs elected from national parties with then priority allegiance to party, not to local people and local issues. The two need separating. We then surely get distance between government, and local issues – not as in this case local Conservative Cllrs ending up no more than proxy operators for central government policy.

As it is DDNHS has acted as a non-partisan movement to protect our health services in Dorset and in that has done the work month after month that paid Cllrs in scrutiny should have been doing.

And the group has notably worked non-partisan with all welcome, from who knows what parties, or non. And that to me is the key issue – whatever allegiances we hold, or memberships, it is surely with focus on issues that affect us all that we make greatest combined progress for everyone.

That referral has now happened is then we can say a good day for democracy. Or if you like, we get what we will put up with : don’t speak up then vested interests will always win the day. We can all make a difference, the template now set in Dorset by the hugely impressive work of Defend Dorset NHS.

And looking to the future, imperative now that the independent review of DCCG plans is indeed independent. And also begs the question why on earth have we had to go through so many years, and so many convoluting meetings, to fight the case to get no more than adequate funding for our health service.

But then taking note of Cllr d’Orton-Gibson’s view that we should not give undue attention to those most remote from a centralised A&E, and in respect of all those left behind by computerised Universal Credit, all those left behind with no homes, how could it be clearer Toryism 21st century (resurgent right-wing Toryism 1980s even more enormously destructive) has lost all and complete touch with what it means to be caring people, in a caring society.

Completely alien and opposed to all our National Health Service stands for : thank you from the Welsh valleys Nye Bevan, 1948 – we are still fighting for a caring society. And thank you so much all working so hard in our NHS.

Jeff Williams