Northern Lincolnshire does not need two general hospitals, says Scunthorpe Telegraph columnist Dr Robert M Jaggs-Fowler
Florence Nightingale's words: "'It may be a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a hospital that it should do the sick no harm", recorded in her 1863 work, Notes on Hospitals, still ring true today.
It is a sentiment that would no doubt find unequivocal support within our communities.
However, over 150 years after Florence Nightingale ruffled a few feathers, we are increasingly exposed to reports damning this or that hospital for a wide variety of shortcomings.
The comparative mortality figures published a few weeks ago are one such example.
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The public may well demand to know why these shortcomings exist and what is being done about them. It is equally true that the public should be fully informed. However, some of the facts are less than palatable, making the obvious solutions at times a very bitter pill to swallow.
Across the country, Acute NHS Trusts (the bureaucratic bodies that manage most of our NHS hospitals) are struggling to meet all the demands on their funds.
A recently published report by the Audit Commission identified 31 hospitals in 2011-2012 which ended the year in debt. In London, an entire NHS Trust managing three hospitals essentially went bankrupt during this summer, with a deficit of £148 million. Struggling hospitals often have difficulty in attracting quality clinical staff, thus quality services and hence patients. The money follows the patient, and so the whole problem becomes a negative spiral, often resulting in closures.
Closures are rarely met with public or political delight. It is understandable that communities would wish to defend their services, and equally comprehensible that politicians would want to support their voters in such issues. Nonetheless, closures of departments or even whole hospitals is often the appropriate solution; and sometime for far more than just a money saving exercise.
Many years ago, a report examining the future provision of hospital services within Northern Lincolnshire concluded that the best way of providing a comprehensive quality service to the populations of North and North East Lincolnshire would be to close the two general hospitals (Scunthorpe General Hospital and Grimsby District Hospital) and build an all singing, all dancing, brand new hospital at Barnetby Top. The report was greeted favourably by many in the medical profession, however, it did not find support amongst the politicians and local councillors whose voting base would be jeopardised as a result of such a controversial plan. The outcome was that the hospital was not built. Yet the decision not to build was short-sighted and has had a knock-on effect for us today.
Instead of now being served by one first class hospital, we have two hospitals run by one trust, struggling to finance sufficient services to maintain credibility and a comprehensive quality service.
The truth is that Northern Lincolnshire does not need, and cannot sustain, two general hospitals. The doctors know that and the managers know that. However, the public need to have confidence in our views. Politicians also need to be honest and visionary, supporting decisions designed to provide long-term quality services to the communities. Closing our two present hospitals, and having one new hospital serving both communities would greatly improve the quality and sustainability of health services available to Northern Lincolnshire. It is most certainly an example of when less is more. Now is the time to reopen that debate with enthusiasm and intent.