Some forty to fifty people turned up at City Hospital today, New Year’s Day, 2008, to make it clear that they were very unhappy with the Secretary of State’s decision to down grade City’s Accident and Emergency Department. After all when this happened to Kidderminster when their A & E went to Worcester resulting in one of the protesters being elected to Parliament.
These protesters are unhappy that Birmingham residents’ views have been discounted by Alan Johnson. They made their feelings known at a public meeting called by the Evening Mail in January, and again several thousand people signed a petition in May. The Trust Board of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital remained unimpressed and nodded the plans through. In response Birmingham’s Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee requested the Secretary of State review the Trust’s decision. Not only did he ignore Birmingham residents, he issued his decision prematurely before Christmas contrary to assurances he had made to Cllr Deirdre Alden that he would make his announcements in the New Year.
Cllr Alden visited the demonstration along with her husband Cllr John Alden. The assembled group chanted “Fight back, not cut back” and spoke to reporters from press, radio and t.v.
City Hospital has already lost services as uncertainty for the future has led to key specialist staff moving elsewhere. The longer term plan is to build a new hospital in the Cape Hill area of Sandwell, not something which Sandwell residents will find attractive either since the existing hospital is in a central location. Two hospitals to close, one to open. This is a hospital closure!
Then there is the financing of the new build. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has proved costly elsewhere and hospitals have found themselves going into deficit to meet repayments. Improvements in patient care has become a lesser priority.
The problem for Birmingham people is that they have not had support from their elected representatives. While Khalid Mahmood, MP f or Perry Barr, attended the January meeting when he was asked where he stood on the plans, he replied that he would follow his constituents’ wishes. Residents of Handsworth Wood Ward and Lozells and East Handsworth made it very clear hat they opposed the plan in May. Khalid’s response to Alan Johnson’s announcement is awaited. None of the City Councillors for these wards, all New Labour, has been seen or heard.
The joint hospital Trust Board includes Cllr Bill Thomas, Leader of Sandwell Council, whereas there appear to be no representatives to make Birmingham’s case. Has Sandwell stitched Birmingham up? Enquiries to the Board have met with silence so far, and a search of their website has also drawn a blank. Since the members of the Trust are paid to attend meetings it should be made clear who they are and the interests they represent. When I attended the important decision making meeting there was very little comment fromsome members, indeed Cllr Thomas fell asleep. The public were only allowed to make their comments at the beginning of the meeting with the chair, Sue Davis, keeping dissent at arms length.
I have been to a number of presentations made by those proposing the plans, at only one, tha organised by the Evening Mail, were there speakers who questioned them. The so-called consultation has consequently been a sham. Today’s demonstration is likely to be just the start of more vigorous protest during 2008.
Evening Mail report 2.1.2008