PUBLIC NOT CONSULTED OVER INJURY UNIT'S CLOSURE by Alana Razzell
February 26, 2004
HEALTH bosses who took the decision to close Heatherwood hospital's out-of-hours minor injuries unit did not consult the public because the closure was deemed "insignificant".
An emergency meeting of Bracknell Forest Borough Council's Health and Social Services Scrutiny panel on Wednesday night heard that bosses at Heatherwood and Wexham Park did not consult residents in Bracknell Forest on what they thought about the service, which treated over 2,000 people a year, because the closure was not a significant change to the local health service.
Andrew Way, chief executive of the trust, said: "When we started the process of looking at the minor injuries unit 12 months ago the responsibility of it came under the health council who saw it as not a very significant change.
"You could argue it is a very significant change and we can be criticised for it.
"But if we believed this was a major change we would have been forced to consult people, because it was not a major change we didn't have to.
"I would not pretend that we are not concerned. It is a decision that is going to inconvenience many people."
Mr Way's comments prompted anger from councillors, who said the decision could undermine people's faith in the trust.
Cllr John Harrison said: "Clearly the Bracknell Forest Primary Care Trust (PCT) saw this as a significant change in services as they put it to a PCT board. How big would a reduction in services have to be before members of the public were consulted?"
And Cllr Cliff Thompson, who is responsible for pensioners in Bracknell, added: "The senior citizens' forum were concerned that they were not consulted.
"This change in services was a bolt from the blue. And residents are concerned about what is going to happen in the future."
Health campaigners Emma Gale and Dave Spicer, who have campaigned for a hospital in Bracknell, added that the trust only saw the decision as insignificant because they did not use the hospital on a regular basis.
Mr Spicer said: "If it is insignificant it must mean that people's lives are insignificant. It is an act of total and utter stupidity and shows total inconsideration for the people of Bracknell."
Mr Way also told councillors that the service had to close between 10pm and 8am because staffing levels had reached a crisis point, with existing staff having to do unscheduled overtime at short notice.
He said: "There was an increase in demand in the daytime services of the unit and we weren't able to provide extra staff to cope with the increase. But there was a big difference in demand at night as sometimes there was only one patient an hour."
However, councillors said providing adequate staffing was the trust's job and that Mr Way had to shoulder responsibility for staffing problems.
Windsor and Maidenhead councillor, David Hilton, who represents Ascot said: "The problem of staffing seems to have been a direct result of action taken by the hospital."
He added that by letting staff know that the service could be reduced the trust had forced workers scared of having no income to look for alternative employment.
Cllr Bob Edger added: "The closure of the unit from Sunday, February 1, was because staff left. But they left because the process dragged on too long."
Mr Way agreed and said: "Staff did leave as they didn't want to wait until they were made redundant. By January two of our key members had left which meant the unit was not safe clinically or in regards to security.
"The mistake we made was going to the staff too early but we had to under employment law."
Bracknell Forest Borough Council has now set up a working group to look into how and why the night-time unit was closed.