Home Page Health centre was a costly experiment that seems to have failed 16/11/12

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Hart of the Matter

Over the past few months there have been rumours circulating about the Crown Health Centre in Haverhill, otherwise known as the walk-in surgery or the Darzi clinic.


It is often hard to distinguish what is true among such rumours, which are prevalent about almost everything new in the town. We hear the cinema doesn’t do as much business as expected, we hear Tesco under-performs dramatically, but I take all that sort of thing with a bit of a pinch of salt, because there is an odd wish to prove that things don’t work in Haverhill that I have never understood.


So I wasn’t sure when I began to hear the new health centre was not as busy as it should be, that it wasn’t affecting the pressure on A&E, and that people were not as satisfied with it as they might be.


Well, this week we learned the rumours were true, because NHS Suffolk announced they plan to close the centre and have begun consulting on the proposals.


I read that our mayor has dubbed it a slap in the face for Haverhill. Sadly, this is one early demise that I had feared from the beginning. What I didn’t know was that the centre has been costing £1.2million a year during its short life.


One evening in 2007 I came home with a particular feeling of satisfaction. I remember announcing that I felt I had done a ‘Jeremy Paxman’ interview. If you are not familiar with Newsnight’s hard-nosed terrier, his guiding principle when interviewing people is apparently: "Why is this lying b****d lying to me?”


In local news my experience is that most people one comes across are generally trying to do their best and are more likely to be guilty of trying to hide ineptitude than anything else.


However, you do come across wider organisations which have a particular agenda which they will try to justify come what may.


In 2007, Suffolk Primary Care Trust decided to withdraw funding from Haverhill’s doctors. Quite why they did this was never completely apparent, but you can draw your own conclusions when I tell you they gave the money to rural surgeries – Hadleigh and Ixworth, I think.


The reason they gave was that Haverhill had too many of the wrong kind of patients. They then claimed that a survey found patients were dissatisfied with the town’s GPs, particularly their opening hours (being closed on Saturday mornings, for instance).


There were public consultations and statements from the chairman of the PCT which were not only difficult to credit, but viewed as rather insulting. It soon began to look as if the PCT had it in for Haverhill’s doctors and the argument had become personal.


At the height of this came my interview with the PCT’s communications director during which I tried to elicit from him what were the right kind of patients and how Haverhill, which had some of Suffolk’s poorest areas of health, did not qualify for their cash but places like Ixworth and Hadleigh did.


Suffice it to say he didn’t seem able to supply any answers and just kept trying to answer completely different questions from the ones I was asking him. I suppose that was his job. I employed the Paxman technique of just repeating the same question over and over again in the hope he might answer it. He didn’t.


It was not long after this that the PCT announced it would be locating a Darzi clinic in Haverhill. I presumed this was an attempt to put Haverhill’s doctors out of business, but when it finally arrived I found people did quite like being able to pop in at any time (8am-8pm, seven days a week) and see a doctor, even if it wasn’t one they knew.


So, for a while, I thought my scepticism about the whole project had been unjustified. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe my belief that Haverhill’s doctors were generally quite well thought of was in error. Maybe the PCT was responding to a real need, and not just making some cuts and changes to suit itself.


Then we began to hear tales that all was not well at the centre. People began to complain it didn’t have any extra facilities over and above what were in the town already, and that they were being sent from there to A&E anyway.


Of course, during that time Suffolk, along with many other parts of the country, experienced one of the banes of the public services nowadays – re-organisation. Suffolk PCT became NHS Suffolk. I don’t know whether the same personnel were re-employed or whether they are all new.


But the new body has obviously taken a good look at the Crown Health Centre and decided it isn’t cutting the mustard. Also, it is sited in temporary buildings, for which planning permission is running out and they can’t find another suitable site.


I suspect some residents would be only too pleased to recover the parking spaces the buildings currently sit upon.


But what I want to know most of all is, if they take it away, will there be some extra money coming back into Haverhill, presumably via our GPs again?


If not, we will have lost out the cash (I believe it was about £300,000 a year) which came into the town prior to 2007, and over £2million of public money will have been spent on a failed experiment which had, at best, a fairly spurious justification.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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