On Tuesday 22nd August I had a long discussion with Nick Hulme, Chief Executive of Ipswich & Colchester Hospitals, about their proposed merger, and asked several questions on your behalf.
How could people afford to travel the extra distance? – There is already a travel expenses scheme for people who can’t afford it, but Mr Hulme agreed he needed to look at alternatives. And we need a shuttle bus between the 2 Hospitals. He is already talking to voluntary sector transport.
Will out-patients who have to travel in regularly for routine check-ups and prescriptions have to travel the extra distance? – he says almost certainly not.
Will waiting times for Ipswich Hospital increase to help reduce Colchester waiting times? – Again he says no, there will still be a focus on bringing down waiting times in Ipswich.
Will anyone from Ipswich need to go to Colchester for A&E or for Maternity? – That is not the plan.
Will at least as many joint specialist services be delivered at Ipswich Hospital as at Colchester? – Mr Hulme says this is the case.
Is there anything else that he will definitely rule in or out? – He promised that treatments will only be merged in order to be better, not JUST to save money.
Mr Hulme also agreed with me that they need to communicate better with their patients – that would help reduce unnecessary journeys and in some cases might save someone having to come in to hospital at all. And he worried that, if Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals do not work together, in the future some services could be moved to Addenbrookes or Norwich or London.
There are things that need to improve. In some areas Colchester has already improved, sometimes with help from Ipswich. There are certainly problems at Ipswich, and staff at both hospitals can learn from each other.
Of course, so much could be done better if only the NHS was properly funded. We pay far less for our health than the US, because our money is not wasted on profit margins and insurance schemes and legal costs. We need to recognise just how effective our NHS is, keep it public, pay the staff properly, and invest in the improvements that are needed.
I will be reading the business case very carefully, and holding Mr Hulme to his words. The merger could give Ipswich residents better hospital treatment – that is the bottom line. But until we have an absolute assurance on this then the jury must remain out.