We wanted a hospital in Ludlow – we got a review

After six years of debate and angst, the decision is final. Shropshire Community Health Trust (SCHT) decided that the new community health facility for Ludlow is too expensive and will not be funded. What we get is a review. Well, actually, two reviews.

The decision is not of course a surprise. The Clinical Commissioning Group on 21 August voted unanimously not to plug a £1.1 million annual shortfall in funding. Immediately after that meeting, SCHT interim chief executive Julia Bridgewater declared: “we will explore every possible option to make the current plan happen.” She told today’s meeting that there are no options to make the hospital happen, and that any ambition for the project had evaporated.

The annual shortfall for the new hospital was this morning reduced to £795,000. That would have been good news if the board’s auditor, Chris Bird had not warned that in his view the funding gap might in reality be well over £2 million.

There was much said about the failure of the scheme being a great disappointment to the people of Ludlow. That’s true for its advocates but the town was split on it. What everyone wants is upgraded medical provision, whether that’s in a new out of town hospital or a revamp of the current East Hamlet site. And better GP facilities.

Now all we get a Task Force – that’s the word used to disguise the reality of a review that will proceed at the glacial pace typical of the NHS. This is not a standalone review. It has to follow in the footsteps of the larger clinical services strategy review of acute and community services across the county.

MP Philip Dunne, after castigating the lack of quality management throughout the hospital project, asked that the review be broadened from community hospital facilities to look at services in the community.  It was a sensible move and promoted an interesting intervention from board member Mike Summers.

“I was going to make a similar point,” he said urging that the review is not just limited to hospital based facilities. “A future community health facility [in Ludlow] could be just an office.”

Yes, you read that right. There may be no hospital, just a block of offices. Other board members, including Maggie Bayley, spoke in full support of keeping a hospital in Ludlow, but it is now clear that even the current hospital is not secure. We will however keep it for a while; it is to get a short-term £165,000 patch up.

One of the features of the whole hospital project has been the lack of accountability, with ever shifting NHS structures, changing board members and a revolving door of senior officers. Pressed by the audience, SCHT chairman Mike Ridley assured that we could hold the board to account for its actions.

Hold the SCHT to account? Of course we can’t. We don’t elect the board. We can’t sack Mike Ridley.

Ludlow has lost its new hospital. We could have had a fantastic upgrade of the existing hospital instead, but even that’s now uncertain.

Officers could not reveal how much money will be lost from healthcare funds, but there are suggestions that £3 million will have to be found to top up the current £2.6 million that has been blown on the failed health project. Six million pounds would have paid for a lot of healthcare. Even for an upgrade of East Hamlet.

But at least we have a review. Sorry, a Task Force.