I want to talk about the situation at my local hospital, the Royal Stoke University Hospital. Winter crises there are hardly new, but they have escalated year on year, and our hospital features luridly in the national press each winter. It is often the most affected, and it is no coincidence that its funding deficit is England’s worst. This winter, however, is the first time that Royal Stoke consultants have taken to social media to apologise for 36-hour A&E waits, for corridors yet again jammed with the frail elderly on trolleys, and for what they now describe as third-world conditions.
The background is that of all the areas subject to the so-called sustainability and transformation plans, Staffordshire is the worst performing in the country. Before the 2015 general election, we exposed locally a funding deficit, prior to the STP, that would have reached £250 million a year by 2020. Since then, the issues have been exactly the same, but the figure for health and social care has now more than doubled. The Royal Stoke now accounts for over £100 million of it, having taken over the crisis-ridden Stafford hospital, for which extra Government funding has now ended. The response so far has not been to invest in change, but to launch a scorched-earth policy. Community hospitals have been closed, rehabilitation wards shut, drug and alcohol services axed, and lip service paid to the prioritising of mental health. The effect is most acutely felt at A&E and in admissions to Royal Stoke University Hospital, which is already brimming to capacity and struggling to discharge hundreds of patients because social services are also in crisis.
At the end of March last year, our local CCGs closed Bradwell Hospital, with Longton and Cheadle community hospitals have gone beforehand, and wards at Leek Moorlands Hospital have closed since then. I was not the only person at the November meeting to label the consultation a sham. I also said that I wished the meeting could have happened at the end of February this year instead, after the winter crisis, the flu and the norovirus had bitten, as they are doing now. The CCGs had tried to pull the plug on Bradwell in the autumn of 2016, but they had to keep it open for another six months to cope with last year’s winter crisis. As late as November, they were saying they had no plans to reopen the hospital, but there was an inevitable volte-face in December.
Lurching from crisis to crisis is no way to run and plan a health system, and it is not only MPs, campaigners, patients and their families who are saying that. Last year, working with local councillors, including Charlotte Atkins at Staffordshire County Council and the indefatigable Joan Bell at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the reformed local “NHS Care for All” campaign, which is chaired by the energetic Councillor Allison Gardner from Newcastle-under-Lyme, succeeded in getting our hospital closures referred to the Secretary of State. The advice of his independent reconfiguration panel was published just before Christmas, and it was damning of the CCGs. The verdict was delivered to him on