LAST week’s Editorial on page 42 was absolutely right to be sceptical about the latest plans for community hospitals and health facilities in our area (Another year, another plan). Behind the warm words and fresh jargon, the stark fact is that the community hospitals in Chippenham, Melksham and Trowbridge are at risk.

The Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which makes decisions about these things nowadays, has accepted a plan drawn up by Capita, a private company making lots of money out of public services.

The Capita plan actually is to replace the three market town community hospitals with “One community hospital hub for inpatient beds, outpatients and diagnostic services, outpatients and diagnostics at one community spoke site and three urgent treatment centres.”

Behind this jargon (hub = hospital, community spoke site = not sure, but likely to be for ‘outpatients and diagnostics’?), lie real cuts.

Two of the three towns will lose their community hospital and there are no guarantees at all as to where the one ‘hub’ will go.

Given Wiltshire Council’s dismal failure to provide Chippenham with a campus or a ‘health and wellbeing’ centre, or to redevelop the Bridge Centre, or improve the Olympiad, it’s unwise to be blindly optimistic about the future of NHS health facilities in Chippenham.

This really matters to Chippenham residents, and also to those of us who live nearby and have benefited from the caring services at Chippenham Hospital.

On the plus side, the Government guidelines are for the new ‘urgent treatment centres’ to provide a very welcome 12 hours a day, seven days a week minor injuries and simple diagnostics service.

But there are lots of questions there too – these are to be GP-led but we don’t have enough GPs right now – where will they come from? It’s already admitted that not all centres will provide a full range of services. And they certainly won’t be community hospitals.

At the same time, Wiltshire Council is merging its health and social care responsibilities and leadership with the CCG. So they will be bound by CCG decisions and no longer able to even pretend to stand up for local needs if the CCG doesn’t deliver for them.

To come back to the beginning, residents of Chippenham and surrounding areas should take this shake up very seriously. A lot is at stake, behind the jargon and warm words. Town and parish councils could have a big role to play, alongside concerned residents.

Wiltshire Council is likely to be compromised and tied up with whatever the CCG decides, as is the Chippenham Area Board, where the council leader Baroness Scott is an influential member.

We have to look to genuinely independent and accountable local voices to speak up for our local health services. I hope the Gazette will also continue to be vigilant and sceptical. Much depends on it.


The Street