Melksham’s Community Hospital has returned to the spotlight after the new NHS chief backed the use of local hospitals. Simon Stevens who recently took over as the chief executive of the NHS has called for a change in the health service, with a shift of services away from centralised hospitals and towards local community hospitals like Melksham’s.
In recent years the health service has emphasised the benefits of centralised hospitals and as a result, services from community hospitals were cut, with many local hospitals closed altogether.
A campaign was launched to try to retain the beds at Melksham Hospital, which was spearheaded by a petition by local women Mary Jarvis and Gill Butler. The beds were removed, creating uncertainty over the future of the town’s hospital, but other services now operate at the site. However, local people are still forced to travel to Bath or further afield for some forms of health care and treatment which cannot be provided locally and to visit family members and friends who are hospitalised.
In a recent interview health chief Simon Stevens said, “A number of other countries have found it possible to run viable local hospitals serving smaller communities than sometimes we think are sustainable in the NHS. Most of western Europe has hospitals which are able to serve their local communities, without everything having to be centralised.
“The NHS needs to abandon its fixation with mass centralisation and instead invest in community services.”
This call from the NHS chief has been backed by the Mayor of Melksham, cllr Terri Welch who said, “The majority of Melksham residents would be delighted if more use was made of our hospital. We hear that the elderly and those with long-term illnesses block acute beds in our major hospitals; if greater use was made of community hospitals this would be alleviated. Older people equally have older spouses who find visiting hospital some distance from their homes a difficult matter.
“I would not like to say that this offers a reprieve for our hospital just yet but I can see a very interesting time ahead.”
However, Alan Weymouth, secretary of Friends of Melksham Hospital & Community, says that it is unlikely that Melksham Hospital could return to its former role as a cottage hospital. He said, “Somewhat sadly I believe it would be foolish, or perhaps at best, optimistic, to interpret what Simon Stevens, the new CEO of NHS England, has reportedly said and paraphrased here about his thoughts ‘to get community hospitals playing a larger role in patient care especially for older patients who could be treated nearer to home’ as meaning that we can expect Melksham Hospital to re-open ‘as we knew it’ at any time in the near future.
“It always surprises people when they see the current amount of activity at the hospital; thankfully there isn’t an unused space anywhere, and I don’t think anyone could realistically expect all the current services to move out somewhere to return their space for bed occupancy like the good old days.
“Mr Stevens made it very clear that he wasn’t talking about returning to community hospitals based on the 1950s style ‘cottage hospitals’, where I’m afraid Melksham Hospital sits, but modern units across the country taking the pressure off A&E departments and was presumably simply trying to address the problems of people who fall between needing acute care and who are too frail or who need regular care, but who have no-one suitable at home to properly look after them, so cannot be safely discharged from acute hospitals and are therefore bed-blocking.”
Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group is currently consulting on a five-year plan that sets out how more health care can be provided at home or in the community. A public consultation will take place on Monday 16th June between 7.00pm-9.00pm at the Corn Exchange in Devizes to discuss the future of healthcare in Wiltshire.