Luke Blair: One NHS decision that is the right one

This is not the first time I've written about the NHS and its communication challenges - and probably won't be the last. However, for reasons which will become clear, I did think one key decision made by the NHS in London last week was worth noting.

Luke Blair: supporting NHS London
Luke Blair: supporting NHS London
Finally, after more than five years of protests, planning, public consultation and political upheaval, last week it was announced that services in Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, would be changing.

Why has this decision taken so long and been so controversial? Because those changes affect Chase Farm’s A&E unit and, despite all the advances made in medicine since the creation of the NHS in 1948, many still feel their local hospital is only a proper one if it has a full scale, fully equipped, 24-7 casualty unit.

Never mind that half those attending A&E could actually be treated more quickly at minor injuries units or urgent care centres.  

Never mind that many casualty departments across London have historically been established in quite the wrong place due purely to the vagaries of where and when philanthropists wanted to build their hospitals, many decades before the creation of the NHS.

And never mind that staff stretched across too many sites, at a time of increasing pressure on NHS budgets, is – if you will forgive the jargon – simply unsustainable.

As a communicator, and one who has worked specifically on Chase Farm for many years, I have always noted wryly how local communities, especially those in Enfield, would insist that the key decisions should be made by doctors – even when those doctors did not actually want to keep the hospital as it was.

Politically, there were also two borough councillors elected on single issue ‘Save Chase Farm’ tickets, posing yet another challenge for those trying to manage stakeholder relationships in the area.

I guess local voters thought those two councillors’ jobs were done when the Coalition was elected last May, since both lost their seats to Conservatives, following months of electioneering over who was going to ‘save the NHS.’

And I wonder what those same voters thought last week, when the key body working for the NHS in London under Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley decided, finally, to end the great Chase Farm battle and announce that services would in fact be changing.

Major A&E services, and joint obstetrics and maternity units, will now move from Chase Farm to nearby Barnet and North Middlesex hospitals.

It is perhaps not very fashionable to congratulate the new government for doing the right thing, particularly where the NHS is concerned. But this time it has done just that – and not only in the case of Chase Farm but also in a number of similar service changes, in London and beyond, which it has been announced in recent weeks.

Whether GPs will be quite so bold when they take over everything in 2013 will be interesting to see.

But for now, I can only end by pointing out how timely last week’s decision was, coming as it did the day after I was born, 46 years ago, in a certain hospital called Chase Farm, in Enfield.

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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