The consultation exercise on the future of Andover Hospital got off to a lively start at a public meeting at Andover Baptist Church, chaired by Joe Scicluna, Editor of the Andover Advertiser.
"This meeting was organised some time ago by Derek Robinson - and all credit to him for arranging a debate at such a fortuitous time. It took place the day after publication by the local NHS Trust of the consultation document on the future of the hospital. The Chair and Chief Executive of the Trust were at the meeting with two senior colleagues; they were between a rock and a hard place. Ministers have told them to balance the books, to stop overspending and to reduce the deficit. But people at the meeting were paying higher taxes for a better health service; they keep on hearing Ministers boasting about the extra investment - and then they read about bed closures, land sales and transfer of some services to Winchester. And they want a squarer deal for Andover. So we had the makings of a lively meeting."
"We made some progress; we got a firm commitment from Barbara North, Chair of the Trust, that every penny raised from land sale would be ploughed back into Andover Hospital. We were told that more detailed plans of how the new services would all fit into a smaller site would be provided before the end of the consultation process. And we were told that the legal advice about the ownership of the site and the ability of the Trust to sell it would be put in the public domain. The Foundation Stone of the original hospital would be in a prominent place in the new building. And talks were under way about improving public transport between Andover and Winchester."
"However, the meeting revealed a worrying degree of mistrust. I believe the Government is partly responsible for this - the rhetoric from Westminster about the NHS sits uneasily with the reality on the ground in Andover, where you can't find an NHS dentist, when couples can'tget the IVF treatment Ministers have promised them and where there is a 14 month wait for bone density scans. Part of the mistrust is also due to what has happened in the past, when economies were made at Andover to balance the books at Winchester and to reports of redundancies in the current year."
"My view is that we should be ambitious for Andover, but that ambition should be tempered by realism. We are a growing town, in a prosperous country, where more money is going into the NHS. We are entitled to demand a wider range of services in Andover, delivered in a modern environment, with a reduced need to travel to Winchester. We are not going to get a District General Hospital in the town, and I believe that was understood at the meeting. I am ready to be persuaded that what we need can be delivered on a smaller site, but the logistics need to be explained to me and my constituents in more detail. I am appalled that the Government plan to "fine" Andover half a million pounds for selling surplus land and am taking this up with Ministers."
"I hope that the Trust, who I think did well in a difficult meeting for them, will reflect on the strength of feeling at the meeting and review the plans to take account of them. We were told that consultants would have to agree to more services being provided in Andover and I hope that consent can be secured. At the end of the day, I want to see a shift in the centre of gravity of NHS provision towards Andover."