Guest post from councillor Tracey Huffer.
One of the vital services that Ludlow Hospital provides is the minor injuries unit (MIU). People go there to be patched up or seek advice, alleviating pressure on overstretched A&E services in Shrewsbury, Hereford and Telford. For the last three days, the MIU has been closed due to staff shortages. It reopens today (Sunday). This is not the first time the hospital has struggled for staff. The MIU has been closed at short notice on at least three other occasions in the last six weeks.
I am worried that the closure is just one symptom of the decline of rural health services in Shropshire and Ludlow.
I very much fear that Ludlow Community Hospital is being closed by stealth. The way we are going, we may well see the loss of many of rural health services in the coming months.
Just on its own, the closure of the MIU would be cause for concern. There should be sufficient staff resources in place to cover sickness and other absence.
This is not the only closure of services at Ludlow Hospital.
It is only a year Stretton Ward was closed at seven days’ notice. We have seen a reduction of beds at Ludlow by more than a half and not all beds in the remaining Dinham Ward are in active use.
That means a local GP has just sent a dying patient into a nursing home because there are no available beds at our community hospital. That can’t be cost effective. It undermines the role of Ludlow Hospital as a community facility where people can recover from critical illnesses or pass away with their friends and family nearby.
The troubles at Ludlow Hospital are unfortunately just one part of a wider picture of pressure on health services across the county.
NHS England says the CCG is not a well-led organisation. It has poor control of finances and fails to plan adequately. On another measure, delegated functions, the CCG ‘requires improvement’. It has said the CCG could even be disbanded if its performance does not improve.
The last thing we need at the moment is major disruption of the management of local health services. We could well get that unless things improve dramatically in the next six months.
Here in Ludlow, we are now desperately worried for the future of the community hospital. Bed spaces have been cut by three-quarters in just a year. The Minor Injuries Unit is closed far too often.
We need the hospital as a centre for health services in Ludlow. If we lose it, health managers will centralise services in Shrewsbury and Telford. That won’t be good for a town like ours.
More than a quarter of people in Ludlow are already aged 65 or over (28%) and that figure is set to increase. A quarter of households have no car or van (25%). It takes more than an hour to get to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital by public transport and a lot longer to the get to the Princes Royal in Telford. We need non-critical services provided here in Ludlow, otherwise people will need to use overstretched A&E services that take hours to get to.
Despite recent promises from Ludlow MP Philip Dunne that Ludlow Hospital will remain open, the Shropshire Community Health Trust will only commit to providing urgent care services in Ludlow. It runs the hospital but will not pledge to keep it open.
I despair for the future of rural health services in South Shropshire and Ludlow. We can’t just continue with piecemeal cuts and unscheduled shutdowns. We urgently need clarity on the future of Ludlow Community Hospital and rural health services in South Shropshire.