Once again, the Advertiser has led on its front page with a story about our hospital; quite right – Andover Hospital is the beating heart of the town and we all care deeply about its future. It is a paradox that, as the town grows in size, prosperity and confidence, we read of the possible loss of some of our public services.
I know that the two Trusts who run the hospital will not contemplate any change without the widest consultation; and they will want to maintain morale of the excellent staff we have during any period of uncertainty. So let me try to set out as much common ground as I can and then define the questions we should be asking.
I welcome the increased investment that has taken place in the NHS and am glad that there is no political controversy about maintaining it in the future. However, there is a gap between the rhetoric of the Government in Westminster and what is happening on the ground, where the Trusts in my constituency are running large deficits and have an overdraft from the Strategic Health Authority. Are we satisfied that we are getting our fair share of the national cake and that the formula for distributing the cash does not short-change us?
Following from that, to what extent are the proposals for Andover Hospital driven by the need to cut costs ( in the jargon “maintaining the Trusts Financial Recovery Plan and reducing the asset to income ratio”); and to what extent are they about spending part of the growing investment in the NHS on newer and better facilities in Andover?
Next, we all recognise that we can’t have everything on our doorstep. Modern medicine is specialised and expensive, so certain facilities are best concentrated at a regional level – probably at Southampton. And even with other less complex operations, something can go wrong and you need access to resuscitation and specialists. Patterns of care are changing; but there should be two-way traffic. Can some straight-forward services, for which we now have to go to Winchester, be provided locally? And, in particular, can we invest in and expand the Minor Injuries Department? Can we have some more diagnostics at Andover to help meet the 18 week target?
Then I welcome the new 66 bed nursing home being built on the site, jointly funded with Hampshire County Council. But will the money it saves from unblocking NHS beds – over £1/2 million pa - be re-invested in local services, or will that be used to pay off the overdraft?
The Outpatient Department, run by caring and committed people, is straight out of Carry on Doctor. Will a modern Outpatients Department be provided as an integral part of the new building we want to see on the site? Can we keep and invest in the Day Surgery Unit - convenient for patients - and the popular maternity services?
On the Andover Hospital site is the ugliest building in England (the GP centre on the left as you drive in). I hope someone will knock it down and start again.
And let us not lose sight of other NHS issues. As far as I am concerned, the Jury is still out on Prime Care (the new service that has been running the out-of-hours service since last July) There are too many examples of long waits for a doctor to turn up and I was pleased to be told by the local Trust that it wants to remodel the service to improve it. And what about NHS dentists? They are as rare round here as, if you will pardon the expression, hens’ teeth.
So what I want to see is the local health service providers engaging in a constructive and open dialogue with my constituents with a view to developing effective and accessible services in modern buildings of which the town can be proud. As the local MP, that is what I will be fighting for.