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Sandy asks the vital questions on Hospital merger plans

Local MP, Sandy Martin reports back to residents on his meeting last week with Hospital Chief Executive, Nick Hulme, following the Ipswich/Colchester merger proposals.

On Tuesday 22nd I had a long discussion with Nick Hulme, Chief Executive of Ipswich & Colchester Hospitals, about their proposed merger. I had several questions which I was able to ask Mr Hulme on your behalf. 

How could people afford to travel the extra distance? – There is already a travel expenses scheme for people who can’t afford to travel otherwise, but Mr Hulme agreed he needed to look at alternatives.  In particular, we need a shuttle bus between Ipswich Hospital and Colchester Hospital.

 

What about where there are no scheduled buses? – Mr Hulme is already talking to voluntary sector transport – community buses and cars – and seeing how the Hospitals can work more closely with them. 

Will out-patients who have to travel in regularly for routine check-ups and prescriptions have to travel the extra distance? – he says almost certainly not.  

Will waiting times for Ipswich Hospital increase at all, in order to help bring Colchester waiting times down? – Again he says no. There may be fluctuations, but there will still be a focus on bringing down waiting times in Ipswich. 

Will anyone from Ipswich need to go to Colchester for A&E or for Maternity? – That is not the plan, other than for a few emergencies which involve a transfer to Colchester Hospital already.  There are of course other specialised emergencies where an immediate trip to Addenbrookes or the Norfolk & Norwich are already the best chance to save someone’s life. 

Will at least as many joint specialist services be delivered at Ipswich Hospital as at Colchester? – Mr Hulme says this is the case.

Is there anything else that he will definitely rule in or out? – No, each service needs to be looked at on its own merits, but no treatment will be delivered jointly unless the hospital believes the result for patients is better.  In other words, we are promised that no treatment will be merged JUST in order to save money (although obviously it will do that too). 

Mr Hulme also agreed with me that they need to communicate better with their patients – that would help reduce unnecessary journeys and in some cases might save someone having to come in to hospital at all.  And he shared with me his concern that, if Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals do not offer specialised treatments working together as a single team, in the future many of them could be taken away from us and located at Addenbrookes or Norfolk & Norwich or London instead. 

There are things that need to improve.  In some cases, such as nursing plans and patient care, Colchester has already improved, sometimes with the support of colleagues from Ipswich.  In fact, staff at both hospitals can learn from each other – there are certainly problems at Ipswich, and seeing how something is done in another place is often a useful pointer to improvement, even if we don’t want to do things exactly the same here. 

And there are problems which a merger will not solve.  There are still around 100 patients in Ipswich Hospital who shouldn’t be there, but who have nowhere suitable to go.  We still don’t have the NHS, Social Care and Housing spending their money together in the way which will benefit the patient most, or do most to prevent ill health. 

And of course, so much could be done better if only the NHS was properly resourced. 

We pay far less for our health than they do in the US, because our health money is not wasted on profit margins and insurance schemes and legal costs.  We need to recognise just how effective our NHS really is, keep it public, pay the staff properly, and invest in the improvements that are needed.

The merger is still “proposed” until the business case is agreed in the New Year. There is one single overriding question which everyone should want to ask: will it make it more likely, or less likely, that I or my loved ones will make a full recovery?  Because if the answer is “less likely” then there is no possible justification for the merger.  I will be reading the business case very carefully when it is prepared. 

I will be holding Mr Hulme to his words on the assurances he has given us. I believe the merger could give Ipswich residents better hospital treatment – that is the bottom line. But until we have an absolute assurance on this then the jury must remain out on the merger.

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