TWO COMMON THEMES OF THE DAY
1. Forest Routes community transport run by volunteers such as Dial-A-Ride (Lydney and Newent, plus Bream and Lydcare) are running at full capacity and facing a serious crisis due to proposed Government legislation which will force volunteer drivers and the charities to be licensed as commercial operators – and they are also facing sharply increasing demand due to the shortcomings of the NHS-contracted Arriva patient transport. Public transport in the Forest of Dean is awful – especially in the north of the district. Services from Mitcheldean, Ruardean and Newent and other north Dean villages are non-existent or very few to the three Forest towns. Jurors said it had been an “eye-opener” hearing about these crises.
These volunteers provide an “armchair to armchair” service, charging 45p or 50p per mile, some services for health appointments only, others also for social events – but are increasingly forced to cancel social bookings to prioritise on health. They also run public minibus services (sometimes daily, more often once or twice a week) which reach areas commercial operators fail to.
Recruiting suitable volunteers is not easy – as they have to be able to also provide care and a rapport with their clients, ensuring they help them from their homes to their destinations and if necessary wait for them to complete their appointments. Now with the new impending licensing changes, they face a very uncertain future.
A Juror later paid tribute to the work they did, saying the perilous state of community and public transport in the Forest of Dean was an “eye-opener”.
2. Forest of Dean District Council, GPs, community transport providers, county council highways, ambulance workers have no preference about hospital location – as long as it meets their various criteria (including planning regs, easy access for parking, ambulances, minibuses and Dial-A-Ride cars and not in several town centre congestion zones).
SOME OTHER POINTS AND SOME CONCERNS
* Dr Paul Weiss, chair of the Forest of Dean GP “cluster” (representing 11 practices) explained that though Newent is part of the Tewkesbury GP “cluster” patients would generally go to the Dilke Hospital.
* Given that HOLD has been very careful to follow the rules – not to speak to any jury member and not to go near the jury room, we were concerned when we spotted an NHS CCG employee wondering into the jury room. We raised this with the Citizens’ Jury staff, and were told by the CCG that their employees were allowed to go and get food and drink from the jury room but not to talk to the jurors. As we cannot – and indeed should not be able to – observe the jury room itself we raised concerns. At the end of the day, it was announced that no observers should approach the jury as there had been complaints some had.
* Another concern of ours was that while statistics show that about one-third of minor injuries cases go outside the Forest of Dean for treatment – no statistics or information was offered, the subject did not arise, about all those using the Dilke and Lydney minor injuries units who were either visitors or had come from Chepstow or Monmouth areas, as they no longer have these facilities anywhere nearby. We were told this was not really relevant to the brief, which is about residents choosing a location.
* Dr Paul Weiss told the Jury that Forest of Dean GPs could not reach consensus on a preferred location at their June 2018 meeting. Each GP wanted the new hospital to be in their nearest town. He also spoke about the plans for a new health centre on Valley Road in Cinderford, and proposed Coleford health centre. He told the Jury that midwives, health visitors and other NHS staff would be based at the new health centre (as they currently are at Dockham Road). However, this is contrary to what we have been told and Dr Weiss afterwards said he didn’t know whether they would be.
HOLD was told at the launch of the proposed Cinderford health centre by NHS representatives that midwives and health visitors not financed by GPs (instead NHS employees while doctors are independent businesses) will not buy into the new centre, to be built by Assura Plc. Instead they will either be based at the community hospital(s) and other GP practices. The developer confirmed they have designed space for a pharmacy (which puts the future of the mandatory two pharmacy licensees in the town into question).
HOLD will be back tomorrow as the Jury continues. The agenda for tomorrow’s sessions includes the presentation of the outcome of the second public engagement around the location of a hospital and “closing remarks” from the representatives of Lydney, Coleford and Cinderford. The Jury will then vote on their recommended location around Friday lunchtime. Our observations from both days will be online each evening.