OPINION: Our disappearing hospital
Reporter: John Hardcastle
Date online: 08 July 2010
“There has been major capital investment to improve the physical environment for patient care at our hospitals and further improvements are planned. By April 2002, our services will be provided at the five hospital sites of Fairfield General, Bury, North Manchester General Hospital, The Royal Oldham Hospital, Birch Hill Hospital and Rochdale Infirmary.”
Public consultation document on a proposal to establish a new NHS Trust at Rochdale, Bury, Oldham and North Manchester. (2001)
Like many, I turned out to hear Mrs Gloria Oates OBE DL attempt to reassure us at the public consultation meetings that change was coming and it was for the better. Tell that to anyone who has read the latest Rochdale Online report on the ending of emergency ambulance services during the hours when nightfall descends on Rochdale.
It is yet more confirmation of a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ that seems to have been the Infirmary’s fate since Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust came into being in 2002.
Of course, anyone possessed of sufficient grey matter to cover a small bilini knew that this was never going to be either a true merger or a marriage of equals. An acute health trust in a fairly tight geographical area was never going to work with similar services replicated in five hospitals. A&E, in particular was a problem. An acute NHS trust with four A&E departments each working flat out to stay within very tight government targets is a Chief Executive’s worst nightmare if he wishes not to incur the displeasure of the Strategic Health Authority.
We are not stupid. We knew that people will always have to travel for specialist services. We knew everything wasn’t going to stay exactly the same. However, now even the dead have to travel to Oldham for their post mortems and the future of children’s and maternity services is about as secure as a bet on Rochdale getting into the Premiership at the end of next season.
We are told that this measure is necessary because of problems recruiting doctors and covering rotas. Well excuse me one cotton-picking minute here Muskie but might not the reason that the Infirmary is not able to attract these staff be because the continuation of service cuts makes it just about as attractive an employment prospect as a four month tour of duty in Helmand Province without the benefit of body armour?
Will the Infirmary ever just finally close its doors, switch its lights out and await the arrival of those nice young men from Persimmon Homes to invade it with their surveying instruments and bulldozers as was the case with Birch Hill?
My guess would be ‘no’ but there are worse things than total closure in my book. It is the damned indignity of it all that I find so offensive. I am not an old man but in my lifetime there were several fine hospitals in the town. Birch Hill, Wolstenholme, Springfield Park, Marland and the rest. Now it seems we haven’t even the capacity to look after our ambulant wounded after nightfall. We may not quite have achieved Third World status but it’s out there on the horizon. You can see it if you look hard enough!
A year or two back, groups of diehard train-spotters and public transport enthusiasts turned out to witness the last ever train running over the Oldham Loop. Will there be a similar crowd out in three week’s time to witness the last blue-light ambulance pulling up at the Infirmary A&E department? I think not.
At least in the case of the Oldham Loop we knew that the Metrolink was coming. What will we have to look forward to when the last ambulance switches off its blue light outside the Infirmary in less than a month’s time?
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