About four weeks ago, senior managers at Bedford Hospital, a former three star NHS Trust, now labouring under crippling debts, were called in by the East of England Strategic Health Authority for a dressing down. The message was unambiguous – they were not being sufficiently radical in closing services in a vain attempt to balance the books; having four wards shut (and another to go in January), over a hundred unfilled vacancies, and one in seven of the workforce on redundancy notices was not sufficient.
One particular reason for the SHA’s ire was the discomfiture being generated by the Save Bedford Campaign, and its vociferous leader, consultant dermatologist Dr Barry Monk. His campaign was first launched on 17th September amidst a storm of publicity. Health minister, Patricia Hewitt, accompanied by the chief Executive of the NHS David Nicholson, visited Bedford in an attempt to damp down concerns. Their visit was not an unmitigated success. Later that month, The Guardian described Bedford as Patricia Hewitt’s “worst nightmare”, and the BBC’s Politics Show said that the local Labour MP, Patrick Hall, defending a majority of just over 3000, was “a dead man walking”.
Clearly then, the SHA, no doubt under instructions from the Department of Health, expected something appropriate to be done to remedy the situation. So now Bedford Hospital has done what expected of it, and in a document entitled “Defining Our Future Role” have indicated that Dr Monk’s highly regarded department is not required.
Dr Monk commented “ the dermatology department at Bedford Hospital deals with patients who are affected by severe skin disorders which cannot be adequately managed in the community; we are highly regarded by our patients, and by our local GPs, we meet every government target, and we actually generate income for the Trust., so one an only speculate as what motivates these proposals.”
He continued “in the NHS we have become used to irrational decision making, but when personal spite is allowed to intrude, something has gone very seriously wrong.”
Dr Monk is undeterred; indeed his campaign to obtain proper local provision of healthcare for the people of Bedford is being carried forward with renewed vigour.