Home Page Is this healthcare merry-go-round ride going to be any different from all the others? 27/06/14

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Hart of the Matter

The notice on the door of Stourview Medical centre has re-ignited the whole Haverhill healthcare debate and, as with so many other Haverhill issues, we prepare to step on the merry-go-round all over again.


Each new generation of protesters, activists and councillors goes through the same learning process about Haverhill issues, beginning with the misguided belief that they can change the world – or at least this bit of it.


Like England football fans, they drink for a while in the Inn Of The Eternal Optimists, before having to bow to reality as though they were the first to ever make that journey.


Who could forget the funding row of more than a decade ago, during which we were told that Haverhill had ‘the wrong kind of patients’? This week one of our new county councillors told how it was revealed to him the other day by a senior doctor that Haverhill people get ill earlier in life than the rest of the country.


This is much the same excuse, now being touted by the organisation which took the place of its discredited predecessor after the Crown Health Centre fiasco.


If you remember, NHS Suffolk brought the walk-in centre to Haverhill, not because we had the wrong kind of patients, or because they felt so concerned to ameliorate the healthcare situation in the town, or even, primarily, because of the pressure on A&E at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.


No, they brought it here as a kind of revenge against Haverhill’s doctors for trying to get some decent funding. They took away about a third of a million pounds from Haverhill’s GPs – because the town had the ‘wrong’ patients, so they said – gave it to the sort of well-off rural surgeries they and their friends used, and then faced a strong and well-argued claim that they didn’t know what they were doing.


Their management certainly didn’t and I remember interviewing their spokesman in an encounter that would not have gone amiss on Newsnight and just proved the argument was unsustainable.


After this embarrassment they decided enough was enough, and they would undermine the doctors by setting up healthy competition. People would leave these unhelpful GPs and register with a walk-in centre that was open when they wanted it to be.


They had made the mistake of believing the few disgruntled users of the town’s doctors – and there are some, because there always will be people who have suffered from mistakes and misdiagnosis, sometimes to a degree that one can quite sympathise with their anguish and fury.


But the vast, silent majority of people in Haverhill – and anywhere else, I imagine - think their doctors do a fantastic job under increasingly difficult circumstances. They were never going to leave them and sign up somewhere where they had no idea who the doctors were going to be next week.


The best efforts of staff at the walk-in centre could not change that, and then, as always, there were people who found fault with the service provided there as well.


So NHS Suffolk, realising the whole fiasco had failed, took the centre away, and landed the doctors with all the extra work back again, before being wound up and replaced with the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group.


This was going to be much more democratic and consultative, listening to townspeople and what they wanted – and, in general, it has been. There is Haverhill representation on the CCG, more effectively than there was on NHS Suffolk, so one might think everything in the garden was rosy.


But there has been little progress in the two most important areas – funding and new doctors. The town is still under-funded, and the excuse seems to be much the same, amounting to the fact that it is our fault for being who we are.


New doctors – who are at a premium at the moment anyway, because of difficulties in recruiting – seem no more keen to come here than they ever were. I sometimes wonder if there is a secret website for new doctors, like there used to be for teachers, warning them off towns which colleagues have ‘black-marked’. That used to affect teachers coming to Haverhill.


And now, with the Stourview issue, comes the revelation that the decision about its future is not down to the CCG at all, but to NHS England, another mysterious body on which we have no representation.


In all the discussion about the issue at Tuesday night’s town council meeting nobody mentioned the two words which immediately came to my mind – ONE Haverhill. Isn’t this what ONE Haverhill is for? To bring together stakeholders, particularly the big ones who normally ignore small places and can only be kicked into line by Government, and make them consult those who are going to be affected by their decisions.


The whole point of ‘Localism’, if it even exists on the Government’s agenda any more, is that communities should be able to access this sort of leverage, and Mr Pickles seemed to see ONE Haverhill as a prime pioneering example of the sort of vehicle which can deliver this.


So now is the time and now is the test of whether that is any more than a political carrot or a form of words. Can ONE Haverhill stand up and force NHS England to the table, and can it get the Government’s backing to bully them into line? Watch this space.

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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