Friarage Hospital SignA public meeting in Richmond Town Hall called by Richmondshire Liberal Democrats to discuss the NHS and the Lib Dem policy of a penny on income tax for the NHS voiced strong support for The Friarage Hospital in Northallerton. Opening the meeting, local chair Philip Knowles said that the bureaucracy worked against funding for the Friarage.

Mr. Matthew Clarke, consultant surgeon at The Friarage, said that, in the past, a large part of the medical work of the NHS relied upon the extra time and effort given by staff, beyond the demands of contract. However, current national policies, including the new requirement for doctors and nurses to pay for their degrees have changed the relationship between the staff andf the NHS as an oganisation. Newly qualified doctors with large loans to repay do not express the same loyalty to serve the NHS and many are going abroad. Of those that do stay, doctor numbers are heavily concentrated in the South East and it is difficult to persuade them to spend any of their undergraduate or postgraduate training far away from London. He suggested that the Medical Royal Colleges should make a requirement of young doctors in the South East to spend part of their training in the regions where there were great training opportunities but poor fill rates for six year training programmes. Two years in provincial general hospitals would provide excellent experience –  especially at The Friarage – and go a long way towards balancing the workforce to the population. Imperial College, London, were already looking to place undergraduates at The Friarage to improve their training experience. He emphasised the excellent record of The Friarage Hospital, Northallerton including surgical outcomes and made the point that well run services in small hospitals are no more expensive than providing a centralised service many miles away in big ones. Staff shortages had to be overcome or many general hospitals would have to close.

Philip Wickes for the Lib Dems emphasised the need for more resources for mental care highlighting the recent closure of mental health beds at The Friarage. The other “poor relation” was social care, illogically the responsibility of Local Authorities trying to cope with rising demand with greatly reduced resources. This in turn resulted in “bed blocking”, costing the NHS . The revival of convalescent homes would be a good step forward and “home not hospital” should be the aim.

Andy Atkins, Lib Dem Richmondshire secretary, gave a presentation illustrating the impossibly complex and overlapping network of institutions which run the NHS involving armies of bureaucrats producing ever more complex action plans that were unrealistic and undeliverable. A root and branch reorganisation was needed to simplify the structure and make it once more a “National” health service. This could only come from central government.

The dysfunctional nature of NHS Property Services was raised as an issue. The ambition of this body to acquire ownership of a scanner largely financed by public donation had delayed its installation by 18 months. The obstruction of NHS Property Services had also delayed the installation of a wheel chair shower for an unbelievable seven years. Was this body being set up for privatisation? Change was needed. There is only one way to save rural healthcare. It needs a simpler structure with decisions made locally and accountable to the people it serves.

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