Today the Citizens’ Jury that was tasked to deliberate over one very difficult question – not whether or not we should keep or lose our hospitals (we are not allowed a say on that) – but the vague location of a new hospital (but not the site itself) decided on a verdict: Cinderford narrowly won the vote, with Coleford coming second and Lydney third. If anyone’s interested, the final tally after three rounds of counting (and checking with electoral rules in the process), was Cinderford 11, Coleford 8 and Lydney 6. Local media turned up for the verdict but no one reported on all the evidence that came out during the past few days except HOLD. The Forester didn’t speak to us, and The Forest Citizen have been nowhere to be seen throughout, but we did get a short bit on BBC1 Points West both today and on Monday.
Although Cinderford is the most central of the three towns up for consideration, none of the locations can be reached by all of the Forest of Dean district within a 30-minute drive, according to the map modelling used by the Jury. The evidence presented to the jury made it blatantly obvious the Forest of Dean district needs two hospitals. Residents in the west of the district have no realistic alternative to using a minor injuries unit in the Forest of Dean as the nearest other hospital providing the facility is west of Caerphilly, would face a longer journey to get the help they needed, or to visit loved ones in hospital (if they are able to get a bed). If the hospital had been sited in Coleford or Lydney, the north of the district would have lost out. So the NHS now has jettisoned its responsibility to provide hospital-based care and emergency treatment for people living west of Lydney, rather than providing accessible health for all.
The Gloucestershire Care Services Trust and Clinical Commissioning Group arrogantly presume they can shut down and sell off two hospitals which were built predominantly from hard-earned wages of miners and other workers. We have been informed from several different people that at the recent Forest Health Forum meeting, the Trust’s new CEO Paul Roberts misled local press and councillors by telling them our legal battle is off – this is not true and he should know that from the Trust/CCG solicitor. This is just one example of a mounting catalogue of deceit, misinformation, changing goalposts and just incredible unaccountability to us all, who the NHS and our hospitals belong to.
Nevertheless the Citizens’ Jury itself, although applied to a farcical situation where democracy was wholly disregarded for the crucial decision to replace our two hospitals with one, offered the first chance for 18 “ordinary people”, non-politicians, in the Forest of Dean to scrutinise the proposal and uncover all its holes even though the brief they had to follow was limited – to “make a recommendation for a location” rather than be given any idea of the exact location, type and size of site, or the bed numbers. So in many ways their decision had to be a blind one. They could not, for example, determine whether the hospital would be built on a coal mine or field, whether it needed millions of pounds of groundwork or road layout, or whether it would have adequate facilities. From Monday to Wednesday, HOLD reported on the Citizens’ Jury proceedings at Forest Hills Golf Club, and we observed throughout the five days.
THINGS WE LEARNED DURING DAYS 1, 2 AND 3:
See our reports from each of the first 3 days of the Citizens’ Jury:
THINGS WE LEARNED DURING DAYS 4 AND 5:
1. A conversation we had with a Dilke and Lydney hospital staff member revealed that there is sometimes (acute) Accident & Emergency treatment at our community hospitals – although this is not the norm people have been treated for heart attacks and other life-threatening emergency situations.
2. When the lift to the operating theatre broke down at Lydney Hospital, rather than fixing the lift, the operating theatre was closed. It is now used as a store room. This is one of a great many examples we have heard of “managed decline” or chronic underinvestment in our two hospitals.
3. Although not considered relevant so not included in any of the evidence to the Jury, thanks to the closure of many of Chepstow hospital’s facilities, with the nearest A&E in Newport, and nearest minor injuries unit in Ystrad Mynach, near Caerphilly, an increasing number of people from across the border are having to use the Dilke and Lydney Hospitals – the staff member estimated 40% of those needing aid for minor injuries and illnesses.
4. Several jurors have declared on several occasions, including yesterday, that they and most people they know still want two hospitals.
5. Gloucestershire CCG told the Jury the 1,600-plus people who completed its latest consultation on Locality are not representative of the Forest of Dean, and did not total the figures for preference (or no preference) in its outcome report, but only provided totals for each postcode area (unsurprisingly the majority for the town nearest them). In the next presentation on Equalities, however, it revealed Lydney had the largest percentage, with just over 50%. Despite taking out a double-page spread advertisement in the Forest Review, the results are only being considered by the CCG as a “broad indication” – it is the “rich data” the CCG is interested in. The CCG claims there was nothing to stop someone taking 50 forms and filling them all out. Surely this could happen for every consultation? Consultations were not sent to everyone because of the huge cost implication, the CCG said.A total of 9000 consultation booklets were produced. She did not have the figures of all those who had filled in more than one box, but they were included in the overall (disregarded) results. We will update when we discover how much this waste-of-money exercise cost us in public funds.
6. As one of the criteria for choosing the town location was that it was in an area of “regeneration”, Cinderford was marked out as a key place by Forest of Dean District Council planning officer Nigel Gibbons in his presentation due to the Cinderford Northern Quarter former opencast/ deep mine and former public Forest site near Hawkwell and Steam Mills, where so far millions of pounds of public money have been sunk into a college, one-third of a proposed spine-road network and “bat hotels” which alone cost £500,000. Chris Witham, chair of the town council who won over the jury, also mooted the Northern Quarter could become a new public transport hub. Cllr Witham also told the jury he did not know where the site would be but it is public knowledge that Cinderford councillors have been lobbying for a new hospital to be built on top of the Northern United deep mine since 2016 – an area previously designated for light industrial use but parts of it still occupied by protected bats. Expert engineers have previously warned this site is unsuitable and dangerous to build on. The college next door is said to have cost £50 million due to the massive ground-stabilisation work required. We hasten to add that we do not know – and the NHS say they do not yet know – which site they want to build on. This mystery site has to be within two miles from Cinderford Town Centre (the War Memorial) by road or 1.5 miles as the crow flies to meet the Location criteria. Chris Witham told the jury that the Northern Quarter was a £450 million development.
7. One juror spoke about mistrust of “many people where I live given that 46% didn’t want” a single replacement hospital and a “concern we are just ticking a box by going through this”. He asked for a commitment that “it won’t happen again” and that “proper deliberation would be given to our decision” by the NHS Boards who meet on August 30th to “consider” the Jury “recommendation”. He was “assured” by Caroline Smith, public engagement officer of the CCG, that the decision would be listened to – for the original consultation they “did have a preferred option”. She said they “genuinely did not have a preferred location”, and if they did not go with the Jury recommendation and “made a different decision” (on August 30) “we would need to be absolutely clear why we did that.”
8. We managed not to laugh out loud when we heard that the CCG is “properly scrutinised” by “elected members” (councillors) and the statutory Quedgeley-based Gloucestershire Healthwatch.
9. There is an “expectation” there will be free parking at the single hospital – the CCG said.
10. The future of GP care for people in Lydbrook using the Brunstone House practice is uncertain due to the proposed Coleford Health Centre, Coleford mayor Nick Penny said.
First thing on Friday morning, the Jury began with a short session for Jurors to raise points that they had over night or that morning or questions that they had from the previous day. The most interesting of which are listed below:
1. One Juror suggested that the presentation given by Councillors Nick Penny and Marilyn Cox on Tuesday contained misleading information. The Councillors emphasised both during this presentation and during their closing remarks on Thursday that Great Oaks Hospice in Coleford previously carried out a vast amount of research when deciding where to locate to and that this could be re-used to argue why Coleford was a suitable location for a new hospital. The Juror suggested that the land had been gifted to Great Oaks and that this was the reason for them locating to Coleford rather than a “vast amount of research.”
2. Another Juror suggested that the lack of thought by the Jury and it’s witnesses to consider the locations of the district’s schools in their decision was concerning and disappointing.
3. Another Juror suggested that some cause for investment should be split between Coleford and Lydney as Cinderford has had a history of receiving vast amounts of public investment with the other two towns receiving fairly little.
4. Dr Malcolm Oswald, Director of Citizens Juries CiC answered a question from a Juror as to why the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) was relevant to the Jury. Dr Oswald stated that this was presented to the Jury to ensure that they had the same information as the NHS boards will have later this month, and thus give the boards less reason to “deviate” from the recommendation of the Citizens’ Jury.
5. Another Juror also suggested that they should have been given the evidence by the Community Transport providers as to how many users, use their services for health related purposes. This information was not given to them during the community transport presentation on Wednesday.
6. A Juror stated that what was proposed was a “new type of hospital” and was “not what the public expect” or support.
7. Dr Oswald stated that there were “no plans” to bring a maternity unit into the new facility and that it was “very, very unlikely to happen.”
Many other observances came out which we will examine in due course and may form part of the legal action we intend to take against the NHS and CCG when they attempt to close our two hospitals, the Dilke and Lydney Hospitals. If you want to help save them, our advice is not to be despondent and consider how many fights we have won in the Forest of Dean against the powers-that-be, recently and historically. We also call for everyone to stay united in the district and not let themselves become be divided by town allegiances.