I have a feeling this is going to be very big, and very significant for the Stafford hospital fight and the wider NHS. Please share as widely as you can.
As you will know if you follow this blog, or NHS news in general with any closeness, on 31 July the ‘Trust Special Administrators’ (TSAs) appointed by the government to formulate proposals (if that’s really the right word for something about which one of the TSAs was heard to mutter, under pressure from an angry crowd at a public meeting, “This is not negotiable.”) on the future of health services in Stafford, and of Stafford hospital in particular.
The proposals involved the dissolution of Mid Staffs as an NHS Trust, and major downgrades to services such as maternity, paediatrics and critical care, and the confirmation of a part-time ‘A&E’ as a permanent feature. The changes were such that, while the hospital has not been closed outright as yet, it can surely be only a matter of time before the government claims that its partial, part-time services are not viable and that ‘for the safety of patients’ the hospital must be fully absorbed into its neighbouring Trusts.
The public ‘consultation’ is not yet halfway through its duration, but it’s becoming ever plainer that the ‘proposals’ are, in fact, a plan – with possibly a slight chance of ‘saving’ maternity or paediatrics as a sop to the people of Stafford in the hope that they’ll then acquiesce to the remaining measures that will in reality seal the long-term fate of the hospital.
To most informed people, the ‘consultation’ is no more than a sham and it’s now inevitable that the future of acute hospital services in Stafford will depend on a legal challenge to the decision.
The recent court victory of campaigners in Lewisham, in which a judge ruled that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had exceeded his powers in decreeing the downgrade of Lewisham’s hospital because (supposedly) of problems at a neighbouring but completely separate Trust, has given many Stafford campaigners hope that a legal challenge to the TSA’s decision might also succeed.
The information I’m about to reveal might just make that hope a little more concrete.
The SKWAWKBOX has learned that the Department of Health (DH) has issued an urgent request, to a number of contract consulting companies, for bids to provide a report relating to Stafford’s services. The specific scope of this report, for which the bid deadline is this Friday, 16 August, is:
to look at the loadings that the proposed planned future housing numbers have on services, not just hospital provision but the full network to include transport, schools and social infrastructure.
As one of those who contacted me about the bid request explained to me:
Normally we would be commissioned to do this body of work either by the Local Authority, County Council or the Department for Communities and Local Government but this request came from DH.
So clearly something unusual is going on.
The ‘proposed planned future housing’ can only relate primarily to the addition of the 1st and 16th Signal Regiments to the 22nd Signal Regiment that is already based in the town, when they are ‘rebased’ from Germany in 2015.
Either figure means a huge additional demand for services – including health services. A key excuse for the decision to downgrade the hospital is that it serves too small a population to be viable – so the arrival of so many new residents is a massive factor that should be taken into account.
The TSAs’ draft report claims emphatically that the arrival of the armed forces personnel has been considered in its proposals – but claims that this will represent,
a potential increase of some 1,040 service personnel who would bring with them ca. 420 families with 600 children.
A quick bit of arithmetic (1040 personnel, of whom 420 are married, plus 600 children) shows that the TSAs are expecting just over 2,000 additional people in Stafford after the rebasing. However, local Tory MP Jeremy Lefroy’s website quotes the following government figures relating specifically to the Stafford move:
The government is investing £1.8 billion in the new basing plan and £1 billion of this will be spent on building brand new accommodation. This will see around 1,900 new family homes being built and more than 7,800 new rooms for single soldiers, along with over 800 upgraded rooms for single soldiers and over 450 upgraded homes for families.
That’s 2,350 family homes, plus 8,600 rooms for single soldiers. Even assuming only one child per family on average, that’s a minimum of 15,650 extra people.
By the time you add on additional civilians who’d move in to provide services to the military and its personnel, this means a very cautious estimate of the increase in the town’s population of 17-20,000 people – an increase of around 30%, or around 16% of the population of the wider borough.
Numbers that would radically increase the demand for acute hospital services in Stafford.
Edit: It appears that the article on Mr Lefroy’s site was phrased a little sloppily, so that national figures were presented as local figures. The real total moving into Stafford is expected to be some 3,000. However, this changes nothing about the main point, which is that – as the title of this article indicates – the TSAs appear to be requesting a backdated impact report to cover for the fact that they made and announced their recommendations without having done one. Also, the impact assessment will also need to take account of planned new housing that is not connected to the military move, so the increase in population will still be much higher than 3,000.
Something doesn’t add up. The TSAs claim that they’ve taken into account the known future developments in Stafford, but seem to have underestimated the numbers hugely. But we haven’t come to the most incriminating evidence.
As you can imagine, this massive influx of people into Stafford is something that has been raised vociferously by the local people attending the TSAs’ public meetings – yet it has been, to quote one local man, ‘sidestepped’. I’ve been unable to locate anyone who attended the meetings who has felt that any kind of substantive answer has been provided to the question – let alone a satisfactory one. Clearly the TSAs did not want to address the issue – or even acknowledge it in the public meetings.
I’ve already mentioned the report, for which the government has asked various contractors around the nation to bid. But there’s something I haven’t mentioned.
The invitation to bid states specifically that the report must be ‘backdated’ – and that it must be completed by a specific deadline.
To give you a proper idea of the importance of this piece of information, I need to set the two specified dates out against two key dates relating to the TSAs’ ‘proposals’, and the ensuing ‘consultation’ period.
The proposals for Stafford hospital were announced 31 July. The new report into the impact of new arrivals is to be dated 5 days before the announcement.
The ‘consultation’ closes as 30 Sep turns into 1 Oct. The new report must be completed no later than 30 Sep.
These dates can only mean two things:
- that no proper analysis of the impact of the major population influx was carried out – perhaps no real analysis at all
- and that the TSAs and DH want to be able to present, as soon as the ‘consultation exercise’ is complete, a report into the population impact that appears to have been completed before the TSAs’ recommendations were made.
Or, in simple terms:
the government and its agents want to cover up the fact that no proper analysis was done before the recommendations were announced – and consequently that far from being evidence-based proposals, the ‘recommendations’ are, in fact, a pre-ordained set of decisions made for ulterior motives which have nothing to do with the best interests of the health and wellbeing of the people of Stafford.
The government has attempted, in a cynical political move that even one of its own MPs specialising in health condemned as disgraceful and dissociated himself from, to convince the public that the Labour government attempted a cover-up at Stafford. A cover-up of ‘hundreds of needless deaths’ that never actually occurred.
But now the government, and specifically its dire, odious excuse for a Health Secretary, has been caught red-handed trying to cover up an omission that exposes the sham nature of the TSA process and which could, if these ‘proposals’ go ahead, really cost hundreds of lives, even thousands over the coming years.
Stafford campaigners and their legal advisors are already working on a legal challenge to these proposals-cum-decisions. The fact that the decision was made without properly taking into account a massive change in the circumstances of the town must surely mean that no judge could support it.
The fact that the DH has tried to cover up its incompetence/malignancy must surely seal the deal – and should ensure that no right-thinking person of any political persuasion could ever contemplate believing anything this government says about the NHS, let alone ever voting for them again.