'DOGMA AT THE HEART OF HOSPITALS BATTLE'

By Julian Lewis

Southern Daily Echo – 1 November 2005

Over the past few months I have received a huge volume of correspondence concerning the fight to keep in-patient beds in our five threatened community hospitals. Indeed, as a senior expert recently pointed out, a community hospital without such beds isn’t a hospital at all.

The massive 41,000-name petition, gathered by the Leagues of Friends and supported by the Daily Echo, was not consigned to “the nearest bin”, much as the Primary Care Trust would have liked it to have been, according to a reported overheard comment.

Rigorous questioning has established that the staggering financial debt which the PCT has built up is not in any significant way due to the cost of running these vital small hospitals – a sum which amounts to just one percent of the operating costs of the PCT.

In a year or two at the most, the PCTs will lose responsibility for providing services which our community hospitals offer. It is bizarre, therefore, that instead of devoting themselves to tackling the disastrous finances of their organisation, PCT bureaucrats seem hell-bent on closing services for which they will no longer have any responsibility in a few months.

This mad policy appears to be driven by dogma rather than primarily by economic motives. Forty years ago, dogma destroyed tried and tested methods of education. We are paying the price to this day in terms of indiscipline and illiteracy. Similar dogma led to the destruction of much of our mental health infrastructure, instead of its necessary modernisation. Desperate people had nowhere to go.

When the PCT’s strategy began to emerge before the General Election, I was struck by the view of a senior member of its board, expressed at a board meeting which I attended as an observer. Treating people in community hospitals was “archaic”, she said.

Attempting to underpin this prejudice, the PCT has quoted a survey claiming that 84 percent of patients in community hospital beds could be more appropriately treated elsewhere. Save Our Community Hospitals challenged this claim – whereupon the PCT admitted that the arithmetic had been wrong and the figure should have been 76 percent. I believe this is still a gross overestimate; but what does the repeated use of a miscalculated percentage say about the competence and reliability of the people presuming to decimate our in-patient facilities?

The PCT is pressing for another meeting with the three MPs who have been fighting its proposals. We shall see what they have to offer – but we remain on our guard.