On Wednesday this paper met with representatives of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT) in Marlow to discuss the future of overnight beds at Buckingham Community Hospital.
Unfortunately the meeting proved a frustrating exercise, as medical director, Dr Tina Kenny, and consultant physician and divisional chair of integrated elderly and community care Dr Syed Hasan, repeatedly failed to answer the questions put to them.
Back in May of this year we reported on BHT plans to roll out a Community Care scheme which had been piloted in Marlow and Thame over the previous year but had seemingly also been used as justification to close the availability of overnight beds at their respective hospitals without the public being made aware of the plans.
Councillor Robin Stuchbury first raised the issue at the Health and Social Care meeting (HASC) on the 24 April but his questions concerning the future of Buckingham Hospital went ignored at the following meeting.
After reporting on their apparent silence, BHT kindly offered us the meeting.
The engagement this week began with many a good news story about how they are keeping patients out of hospital and instead caring for them at home. The benefits of this have not been challenged and so it was put to Dr Hasan that overnight beds are no longer available in Marlow if needed. He responded:
“We have got capacity - in Chartridge and Waterside wards in Amersham.”
Amersham is approximately 13 miles by road from Marlow, and takes over an hour on public transport.
Dr Kenny was then asked why BHT didn’t consult the people of Marlow about the closure of their overnight beds. She replied:
“Well we did.”
When it was pointed out that we had been unable to find mention of it in the reports of the stakeholder meetings, Dr Kenny appeared to walk back her initial answer somewhat, saying:
“Well the questions were open – it was “what is it that you want?””
Moving the conversation to Buckingham, the medical director was told of the concern of some people in the town regarding the future of the community beds. Echoing a previous statement from May of this year, she said:
“No decision has been made at all about Buckingham. I can be really, really clear about that.”
While it may be that being clear that one doesn’t know is clarity of a kind, it’s unlikely to allay the fears of many. When pushed further as to whether she could offer a guarantee of the future of the overnight beds at Buckingham Hospital, Dr Kenny said:
“No one can ever give guarantees about anything, ever.”
Referring back to the fact that people in Marlow and Thame were not consulted fully about the changes to the uses of their hospitals, Dr Kenny was queried on whether the stakeholders in Buckingham would be questioned on their thoughts about the future of the hospital. She responded:
“We’ve already been, I think, three times up in Buckingham and had various different conversations.”
Speaking to Dr Hasan once more, he was asked why the online petition of over 3,500 people calling for the overnight beds to be re-opened was being ignored, while a stakeholder group of 60 people was continuing to be used to justify the closure of beds when the subject doesn’t appear to have been discussed by them. The consultant physician replied:
“We had two stakeholder groups that touched many, many, many patients and we’re going to continue to work with stakeholder groups to take this forward.”
Finally, Dr Hasan was asked where people in Buckingham would go if the hospital closes. He said:
“It’s an assumption and we can’t address it.”
This paper is not challenging the validity of the Care in the Community scheme in this article. We are reporting the concerns of many residents, Buckinghamshire-wide, regarding the loss of overnight beds in their communities, and seeking transparency on their behalf.
Despite trying for three months to get clear answers on the future of Buckingham hospital in particular, we have been unable to do so.