Mark Aitken – Essex County Standard

Anglian Community Enterprise’s (ACE) plans to help more people to lead healthier lives sounds exciting, but no matter how keenly you follow a healthy lifestyle none of us are going to live for ever. Sooner or later we will find ourselves in need of hospital treatment and for those living in and around Colchester we want our local hospital to have the expertise and infrastructure to deal with those needs. Unfortunately our hospital service in Colchester has been blighted by over 40 years of dithering, compromise and indecision. This was compounded when our previous Chief Executive threw in the towel claiming that the planned centralisation and modernisation building project was unaffordable. The proper approach should have been to renegotiate the project. That is what our neighbours have done. Shining examples are the new state of the art Broomfield Hospital, Ipswich’s Garrett Anderson Centre and Peterborough’s brand new hospital.

Our recently opened semi-prefabricated new Children’s facility with a brand new surgical facility on the first floor are eye-catching, but did we need more Paediatric beds when their average bed occupancy is less than 50%, as opposed to our adult medical wards which routinely overspill into a ward in the gynaecology block? And was the new surgical ward just a “replacement” for one of the existing surgical wards or part of a plan to poach patients requiring potentially lucrative surgical procedures from neighbouring districts?

In many respects Colchester’s Hospital Executives have merely been following the mantra ordained by Parliament. This is the mantra that worships commercialism, competition, and profit. The recent White Paper makes it abundantly clear that the present administration has no intention of changing course. But, is that what you really want? Have our local MPs signed up to this nonsense or will they exercise their right to vote with your votes and their consciences or just bend under the whip? There is an alternative approach. If we were to follow the alleged parliamentary aspiration to devolve healthcare decision making to local communities then we could define our own priorities and maybe a body like ACE could play a part in that. Currently about £20bn is spent annually on the bureaucratic machinations of bodies like Monitor, the Healthcare Commission and the Strategic Health Authorities. Do we really need them? Of course not. In Colchester we won’t go to the top of the league by blocking our own goal mouth. We need strikers who can hammer the ball into the net at the other end of the pitch. Are our MPs up for it?

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