Thursday, 11 December 2014

St Michael's Hospital


Last week I met the Friends of St Michael's Hospital to discuss their plans for the future. There have been rumours circulating for some months now that the hospital is going to be closed which has been unsettling and unfair to the dedicated staff working there.  As the Cornishman reported last week, this has spilled over into concern among local residents.

When the rumours first surfaced this summer I met with Lezli Boswell, the then Chief Executive of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust which runs St Michael’s, to discuss these rumours and ask if there was anything I could do to help.  She made clear there are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital and that they would actually like to do more work there.

I have also had discussions with the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group which is the body that commissions local NHS services.  They explained that when deciding how to configure NHS services, one of their criteria is to make things more local and encourage joint working within the NHS. I think that's important for Cornwall because we are on a peninsula and have always had a culture of working together. The NHS is no different.

An election is just a few months away and the political atmosphere is charged, but I strongly disagree with those people who keep saying St Michael's will have to be closed down.  We should not undermine confidence in our local NHS.  Instead we should support and strengthen it. According to the Friends of St Michael’s, the hospital delivers over 95 percent of all breast cancer operations in Cornwall, about 1200 operations a year which is an extraordinary feat.  St Michael's is the only hospital in Cornwall where there is the capacity to do this work and it's the reason why it should have confidence in its future.

The Friends team are also looking at the area of orthopaedic surgery which is the other key area covered by St Michael's.  They tell me all three orthopaedic operating theatres are working fully during the five day working week and are aiming to secure additional operations.

Some people have said St Michael's will need to close because there are often empty beds but this is a very old fashioned way to measure performance in the NHS.  As the Friends explained to me, modern surgery means patients are kept in hospital for far shorter periods and that some of the procedures at St Michael’s now require a two-night stay rather than six-day stay. In fact some operations have now become day cases.

Like any big organisation, the NHS will always have challenges to deal with but I think we should help them deal with those challenges, not talk them down.