February 2010

Save Kingston Hospital campaign - one week in

Since Edward Davey and Susan Kramer launched the Save Kingston Hospital campaign at the beginning of last week, much has been happening. For a start, nearly 6000 people have signed the petition, and nearly 11,000 have joined the Facebook group.

If you have somehow missed it, I should explain that some weeks ago the MPs were told that a review was being undertaken of the hospitals in South West London. One of the options being considered was to close down the A&E and Maternity departments at Kingston.

This South West London Strategic Plan was due to be published in December, and the date was then postponed until Jan 25th. At the last minute the MPs heard that although the report had been written it was being held back until after the election. They decided this was too important an issue to ignore so went public with their concerns.

Not surprisingly, some people have questioned the MPs' sources. As you will see on the website, they were given this information in four separate meetings with four separate chief executives. They also met staff who were working on the feasibility of the proposals.

On Wednesday, there was a routine meeting of the Board of Kingston Hospital, at which the Chair said it was 'inconceivable' that the departments would close. He did not, however, deny that there were any proposals.

By coincidence, last Wednesday evening I was sitting on the Council's Health Overview Panel which scrutinises local health matters, so I was not at all surprised that someone asked a question about the campaign. I explained what I knew - that senior NHS staff had indeed briefed the MPs about the content of the review, but that the staff would be under pressure not to reveal that.

I suggested that the Health Overview Panel should hold a special meeting to look into the matter, and this was agreed around the table. We would invite the Chief Execs of Kingston Hospital, NHS Kingston, and the people running the SW London review, as well as the two MPs. This is now being arranged.

In the meantime, Susan Kramer and Edward Davey have submitted Freedom of Information requests to those bodies as well as NHS London, and the Dept of Health. You can see these on the campaign website. The bodies have to reply in 20 working days, which will take us up to early March.

This is far too important an issue for it to be ignored or kept hidden.

What's happening on Wednesday?

I'll be chairing the South of the Borough Neighbourhood Committee as usual this Wednesday. Everyone is welcome to come along and join in the discussions.

The meeting will start at 7.30pm at the Hook Centre. But the Neighbourhood Manager, Barry Allen, will be available from 6.30pm if you want to drop in and chat with him about anything to do with the Neighbourhood. He is usually joined by one of the local Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams.

The main planning item is the proposed development on the site of St Mary's Church Hall in Church Lane. The church have now taken over the old Youth Club premises and renamed it the St Mary's Centre - and it is thriving. So the old hall is now redundant, and the plan is to build flats.

If you have seen the agenda in advance you will see that officers were recommending that the application should be refused. However, amended plans have now been submitted and the planning officers are now recommending that it should be permitted.

Apart from that we have to consider some very worthy reports on youth unemployment, and on the parking strategy in district centres such as Tolworth.

Another item is on the policies that underpin the Local Implementation Plan, which is how we are going to bid for funds from The Mayor of London's Transport Strategy. Although that may seem dull, it could mean many £millions to be spent to improve traffic and transport in the borough.

There will probably be some interest in the item on planned highways maintenance for 2010-2011. The Committee has £104,000 to spend on resurfacing roads and pavements across all three wards - and I can assure you, that doesn't go very far at all. The highways engineers do a full analysis of all the roads and pavements using a standard form of assessment known as the UKpms. They then identify the worst ones and we councillors have to make decisions based on that information. It's not easy!

This year the officers' recommendations will only be available on the night. That is because the icy weather over Christmas and New Year has damaged a number of roads, and the officers wanted to do some further assessments.

I'm also rather pleased to see that the Hook Centre has actually underspent by £7,800 so far this year. This is due to the efforts that have been made to reduce energy consumption, mainly by improving the heating system.

If all that hasn't put you off, then do come along on Wednesday.

Bogus charity scam in Hook

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Someone in Hook has warned me about a scam.

A few days ago, I got one of those charity collection bags through the letterbox. I threw it away without looking at it because I always take my old stuff to the Debra shop in Hook Parade.

But someone locally took the trouble of checking one. Now some of those charity collections are completely genuine - but some are bogus. The offending one is claims to be for a charity called Helping Arms and boasts the charity number 5995054.

Mike Christie checked this out at Companies House and found that the company was registered in Tottenham Court Road, but has subsequently been dissolved. The charity number is false.

I have also checked Helping Arms through Google and you can see that they have a ruling against them by the Advertising Standards Authority, and complaints from other parts of the country.

The problem with bogus charities, apart from the illegality, is that they reduce the supply of second hand clothes to genuine charities. So do check any bags that come through your door, and if you are at all doubtful don't leave out any goods.

We have a number of charity shops in the area, including The Queen Elizabeth Foundation in North Parade, Fara in Tolworth Broadway and Debra in Hook Parade, so the best advice is to take your wearable clothes to one of these. If they cannot be worn again them pop them in your green box where they will go for recycling.

Charity shops, and genuine door to door collections, are a valuable part of the local economy. They help us all to meet the second target in the Reduce - Reuse - Recycle mantra, they provide a source of cheap clothing for those on limited incomes, and they raise funds for important charitable purposes. The last thing we want is to undermine what they do.

Off licence at top of Somerset Avenue - Council decision overturned by magistrates

The Spar shop at the garage at the top of Somerset Avenue applied some months ago for an off-licence. I'm pleased to say that councillors in Kingston turned it down.

Then Spar appealed against the decision. Unlike planning decisions, the appeal is heard in the local magistrates' court.

One of the people who lives in Somerset Avenue went along as a witness on behalf of the local residents, who don't want an off-licence nearby. He was very disappointed when the appeal was allowed; in other words, the garage will be selling alcohol in the future.

Apart from the madness of mixing alcohol and driving, the shop will undoubtedly attract new customers who will just be picking up their beers and alcopops.

I'm not against sensible drinking - I do it myself! - but we don't need an off-licence here.

What really annoys me is that once again we have an example of local democracy being over-ruled. Why on earth did the Government pass responsibility for licensing to local Councils a few years ago, if their decisions can be overturned by others?

Pavements

When I first got into politics back in the 1970s the buzz word among Liberals (as we then were) was 'pavement politics'. This cleverly referred both to the issues we should be concentrating on, and our method of campaigning. Indeed, Focus was born back then, and was a radical approach to doing politics on a micro-local scale.

I mention that because at South of the Borough Neighbourhood last night we were talking about - pavements.

The Committee had just £104,900 to spend in 2010-2011 on relaying roads and pavements across the whole Neighbourhood. That amount does not go far. Road resurfacing costs anything from £10,000 for a short stretch of road, up to £100,000 or more for a long road. Pavements, oddly enough, can be even more expensive.

We decided to put the whole sum towards pavements. The highways officers had carried out a complete assessment of all the pavements, and had gone back again after the bad weather. They had ranked the pavements in order of priority.

The outcome is that only the four stretches of pavement which emerged as most in need of replacement will be treated. They are Frimley Road (evens from 18 to 86), Gilders Road (between Filby and Billockby), Frimley Road(between 19 and 63) and Stormont Way (both sides).

It doesn't mean that roads themselves will not be repaired.

This fund was for 'planned highways maintenance' that is, for pre-planned large scale projects. There is also a fund for 'responsive highways maintenance' which deals with all the repairs, potholes etc. In another part of the agenda we also agreed to transfer the Neighbourhood's budget underspend of £37,400 to responsive maintenance so that it could be used immediately to deal with problems caused by the snow and ice.

St Mary's Church Hall

Just to report that yesterday evening we gave planning permission for 6 flats to be built on the St Mary's Church Hall site in Church Lane.

This is the old building between the British Legion and St Mary's School.

The church has now taken over the old Youth Club premises between the British Legion and the church itself, and has renamed it the St Mary's Centre. The old hall is now no longer needed, and is not in good shape anyway, so the development will help to fund the new school building and the St Mary's Centre.

Grants available now for local voluntary organisations - hurry or they will be gone for good!

£58,000 is sitting in the Grassroots Fund for voluntary organisations in Kingston, and the money must be distributed before September. Anything not used reverts to the Government - and we wouldn't want that, would we?

One of the Chessington-based charities that I am involved with has successfully bid for a grant, and it is pretty simple to apply, with up to £5,000 on offer. The Grassroots Fund is administered in Kingston by Thames Community Foundation.

You can read everything you need to know here, but I thought I would entice you to apply with a quick summary.

To be eligible, your group does not have to be a registered charity, but it must:

  • Be a small not-for-profit, third sector voluntary or community group, active in their local community for not less than twelve months before the date of your application.
  • Have income of less than £30,000 per year taken as an average over the last three years.
  • Be volunteer-led
  • Be connected with and/or meeting the needs of the local community
  • Have a governing document (constitution or a set of rules).

They can't fund schools, police, national organisations, party political or religious activity, or organisations that solely benefit animals or plants. But that still leaves a lot of small local organisations and clubs who could benefit. So please pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested in applying.

The bus is coming!

Next Monday the new bus service to Hinchley Wood School will finally start, after three years of untiring campaigning by the parents.

I've written about this before, and how they had to involve me as they were getting nowhere. I found that communication with Transport for London was dire, so brought in Edward Davey MP, and Caroline Pigeon, who chairs the Transport Committee on Greater London Assembly.

Finally we managed to cut through all the nonsense, and TfL accepted that there was a business case for a new bus route.

So every school day, morning and afternoon, the 467 route will be diverted at the Ace to go down to the roundabout near the school. There's even a convenient, disused bus layby in just the right spot.

A 365 day a year walk-in clinic for Gosbury Hill?

Last night I attended a meeting at the Hook Clinic, on the corner of Gosbury Hill, about the proposals for a walk-in clinic on the site.

It wasn't a public meeting, but one called to share the proposals with councillors, council officers and patient participation groups.

Since NHS Kingston announced their plans just four weeks ago there has been a great deal of interest, to say the least. In fact, I've received loads of emails and phone calls about it, and I know that many letters have been sent to NHS Kingston as well as the Council planning department.

So what's it all about?

There are, in fact, two stories here that have become intertwined.

The first story is about the two GP practices in Orchard Gardens - the Orchard Practice (with Dr Siva and Dr Bala) and the Grays Practice (with Dr Gray). Everyone agrees that the premises they share are totally inadequate. For some years people have been on the look out for new premises for them, but in spite of several suggestions nothing has worked.

Next door, with an entrance in Gosbury Hill, lies the Hook Clinic. This used to be a busy place with baby, family planning and dental clinics, plus toddler groups, amongst others. However, for the last two or three years it has acted as a base for the District Nurses, but nothing else.

So I was very pleased when NHS Kingston offered to sell both the Hook Clinic and the current GP premises to the two GP practices. I was expecting them to bid jointly for the leasehold, but they decided to submit rival bids. In the end, Dr Gray was awarded the lease on condition that the Orchard Practice continued to operate from the site.

Dr Gray then started working up some plans to use the two buildings (which are physically linked) in the short term. In the long term he wanted to demolish both buildings and build a completely new facility on the combined site. All sounded very positive and exciting.

The other story is about a GP-led walk-in clinic. Now NHS Kingston is obliged by NHS London to open one of these in Kingston by April. They have been working on the project since summer 2008, and had identified a need in the area south of the A3. We don't have enough GPs, for a start, and there appears to be evidence that local people have more health problems than elsewhere in the borough.

A GP-led walk-in clinic would essentially be a small GP practice, which would also offer a service from 8am to 8pm, 365 days in the year. Anyone, wherever they lived, would be able to drop in and receive medical care. It was hoped that this would help relieve A&E of less serious injuries and ailments.

I have come round to seeing that a new GP practice was needed, and a walk-in clinic could be a useful resource for the local community, provided it was located sensibly.

At that stage I had arranged for the Neighbourhod to convene some meetings to include all four practices in the area (the Gosbury practices and the two at the Merritt Centre), plus the patient groups and NHS Kingston. Everyone was expecting the Merritt Centre to house the clinic, and I was keen that the four practices should work together to support it. Indeed, the 'new' GP practice could simply mean growth of one of the existing practices.

Then things started going wrong. The first invitation for bids was simply issued to the local practices. But then NHS Kingston was told by their seniors that they had to open it to anyone who might be interested. I still tried to encourage the four practices to work up a bid together, or even separately, but in the end the bureaucracy was overwhelming and they all decided to drop out.

After a puzzlingly long wait, NHS Kingston finally announced last summer that it had awarded the contract for the walk-in clinic to a consortium in Kent, called Malling Health.

Malling then started to look for suitable premises. They were seriously considering the Woolworths store in Hook Parade, but the landlord decided to lease it to a carpet company instead. By late last year NHS Kingston was clearly under heavy pressure to find a site, because they were obliged by NHS London to open the clinic by April this year.

The two stories merge from here on.

I was completely taken by surprise when NHS Kingston announced - in a press release - that the new GP practice and walk-in clinic would open in April in the Hook Clinic. They had done a deal with Dr Gray to share the premises with the existing two practices.

At that stage there had been no consultation at all with local residents, and we local councillors had not been informed, in spite of our involvement earlier.

There has been a storm of protest since then, both from people living near the site and from patients at the practices. The main concerns have been around parking, given the level of congestion that already exists in Orchard Gardens, Gosbury Hill and Elm Road, and the opening hours. They are worried about what it might mean for the community if people were able to descend on this suburban side street from anywhere, 12 hours a day, any day of the year.

It has, I must admit, brought out some fairly extreme views (someone told me that people who moved in from north Kingston were 'garbage'), but there is a genuine fear that drug addicts would make their way here to ask for their supplies. In the absence of real information all kinds of stories develop.

As soon as I saw the press release on 19th Jan, I contacted the Chief Executive of NHS Kingston, and also had a conversation with him the following week. I particularly wanted to talk about two things.

The first was to find out whether planning permission was required for the changes proposed for this April. Obviously planning permission will be needed for the new build, but this year they want to install a new service, which will be open for far longer hours than anything that has happened in the Hook Clinic before.

It seems that the use of the Hook Clinic as a walk-in clinic would not count as a change of use, since the building had been used for medical purposes before. But it could possibly be considered to be an intensification of use, for which planning permission would be needed - as indeed would be the case if a restaurant wanted to open for longer hours.

So I advised NHS Kingston that they should have a conversation as soon as possible with the Neighbourhood Planning Officer, and I supplied her name. That advice was passed on to the Grays practice, but no-one followed my advice. They did place a phone call with the duty officer who correctly answered some questions about possible change of use, but they did not explore the full ramifications with the Neighbourhood Planning Officer.

By last week the planning officers had received many letters and phone calls about the proposals so they decided to contact the Grays practice directly. They are now gathering the information they need in order to decide whether planning permission is required.

If the professional advice is that planning permission is needed, then NHS Kingston have probably left it too late to complete all the formalities and be able to open in April.

But planning permission is only a tiny part of all this, and the second thing I talked to NHS Kingston about was consultation. What NHS Kingston must do now is to hold a proper face-to- face consultation with the local residents and patients. This is what I am insisting must happen. The Neighbourhood would be happy to help facilitate this if that would help.

There is a strong tradition of consultation in Kingston, and people expect to be consulted on local proposals that might affect their lives, from school expansion to road improvements.

So, yesterday evening, we said that NHS Kingston and the Grays practice must consult properly with local people, and not simply push this through regardless. Today I have written once again to the Chief Executive of NHS Kingston and asked him when that will happen.

Moor Lane Centre opens

You may have wondered what was happening to the site of the Moor Lane Junior School, since it amalgamated with Buckland Infants and moved to the Buckland site.

This amazing cake may give you a clue.

The Moor Lane Centre provides an integrated service for children with disabilities and their families, and today it was opened in style.

Basically, what Moor Lane offers is a one stop shop for parents and carers, where they can receive medical, social and educational support all under one roof. Consultants from the hospital, occupational therapists, educational special needs professionals, speech therapists, family case workers and more, are all housed in the one building.

This has huge benefits for the families as they do not need to traipse from one part of the borough to another to get advice and treatment. On top of that, the professionals now share a work environment which means that they can easily liaise about the care and support needed for a child.

Some months ago the Neighbourhood agreed to create a play space specifically to meet the needs of disabled children and their siblings in the grounds. I was pleased to see some of the initial thinking on this at the event.

Over four years ago I was involved in setting up this project, and it has been a challenge to bring together people working in such different disciplines, and from different management structures. But it has happened, thanks to some excellent pioneering work by managers in the Council and NHS Kingston.

So today's opening was a real treat - it was good to see so many people I have worked with over the years all together in one place.

Here is a glimpse of one of the rooms.

Elm Road closed on Monday (22nd) from 9.30am to 4.30pm

Elm Road - that is, the road surface itself - has suffered quite badly in the freezing weather recently. So much so that the traffic engineers have decided to carry out an emergency investigation.

The contractors will be drilling bore holes in the road between Moor Lane to Rhodrons Avenue on Monday, so the road will be closed along that section during the day.

The idea is to find out the exact nature of the problem, before the road is repaired and resurfaced.

So on Monday the K2 will be sent on a detour. Instead of turning left at the Hook Centre they will carry on down to Bridge Road roundabout, along Bridge Road to the Chessington Oak, then back along Moor Lane to Gosbury Hill.

My advice - keep well clear of Elm Road on Monday, unless you live there, of course.

Countdown to oblivion

I rather stupidly forgot to take a photo to illustrate this post, and it's too late now because it is dark. So hopefully you will understand what I mean.

At many bus-stops there is a neat display which tells you when the next bus is due. This is the Countdown system. Something similar has been in use on the Tube for several years, but there aren't many cities that also have it at bus-stops.

It seems the Countdown system has got to be upgraded. But the Mayor for London has decided to use this opportunity to remove it entirely from some of the bus-stops, whilst adding it to others.

As a result, Transport for London is planning to remove Countdown from these local bus-stops:

  • Outside the nursery in Moor Lane
  • Chessington North Station
  • Tolworth Tower

This is clearly a retrograde step. If you agree, please sign this petition which has all-party support.

Threats to Kingston Hospital under the spotlight in a five hour meeting

It's been a busy week - meetings every evening, and Budget Council tonight.

I hope it won't be as long as the Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting last night which finished at 12.15am. But it was a very important meeting, and I was impressed by the way in which everyone was listening intently throughout.

The topic was the threats to Kingston Hospital. I had proposed that we call a special meeting of the Panel, after several people voiced concerns at the last meeting, and I was very pleased that the major players were represented at the highest level.

So the Chief Executive, Kate Grimes, and the Chair of Trustees of Kingston Hospital, Christopher Smallwood, were there, as were Susan Kramer MP and Edward Davey MP

The key people we wanted to quiz were from Healthcare for South West London, who had commissioned the work on the future of the four hospitals in the area. The Chair, Sian Bates, attended, accompanied by Dr Martyn Wake, the Clinical Director, and Lucie Waters, the Joint Director of Strategy. Finally NHS Kingston was represented by Penny Taylor, as the Chief Executive could not be there..

I mention all these people because it indicates the seriousness of the issue.

You can read the background to the story on www.savekingstonhospital.org.uk.

I'm not going to go through the meeting line by line, but will pick out some things that stood out for me, mainly in answer to the questions I posed.

Back in November the two MPs had been briefed ("by four Chief Executives") that a document called the South West London Strategic Plan was due to be published on 18th December 2009. It listed options for reorganising St George's, St Helier, Mayday and Kingston Hospitals. In many of those options Kingston would lose A&E, Maternity or both.

At the last moment publication of this document was delayed, first to January, and then until after the election. At that point the MPs decided to go public on what they had been told.

We had asked Healthcare for SW London to release the Strategic Plan for the meeting last night, but they refused to do so. Instead they presented us with another report called The Case for Change, and spent a long time telling us about that. When we finally got a chance to ask questions, I pointed out that although The Case for Change was an important document because it dealt with the high level principles, it was not the document that we had asked them to talk about.

As it happens things had moved on since last night's meeting was first called. Someone had leaked pages from the SW London Strategic Plan to the MPs, and you can see copies of them here. Printouts of these four pages were included in the agenda papers.

So I then asked Healthcare for SW London whether the pages were genuine extracts from the document. They agreed.

I asked what the term 'Final draft, 18th December 2009' meant. This is clearly stated on the first page. They said that this was early work and not due for publication until after the election. Later we heard that it was in fact presented to NHS London on 25th January, so I'm still confused about what 'Final draft' means.

I then asked whether the tables on the fourth page showed 18 options, and that in 16 of these options Kingston would lose at least one service - A&E, Maternity or Inpatient Paediatrics. They agreed.

I finally asked whether in a third of the options Kingston would lose both A&E and Maternity. They agreed.

In other words, they agreed that the MPs had been correct in what they had said right from the beginning.

So I then drew their attention to a letter sent from Healthcare for SW London on 27th January, which was widely circulated. In this letter Dr Martyn Wake is quoted as saying "This work is at an early stage and has not considered any specific sites for closure nor have we agreed any numbers of hospitals that will be required to deliver A&E, complex surgery, critical care, or specialist children's care."

I said that the MPs had not been suggesting that decisions had been made and that this quote was very carefully worded - the phrase 'not considered' could be open to several interpretions. The overall impression given by the letter was that the SW London Strategic Plan did not exist and that the MPs were scaremongering.

(Indeed, the local Conservatives did take that meaning, and have rather foolishly been telling everyone that there was no substance to the MPs' claims.)

Dr Wake then apologised for misleading people.

Later in the meeting the Chair of Kingston Hospital Trust, Christopher Smallwood, said, as he was quoted in the press, that it was inconceivable that Kingston's Maternity and A&E could shut.

Edward Davey remarked that it may be inconceivable, given the reputation of the hospital, but that someone had conceived the inconceivable - in the Strategic Plan.

Susan Kramer stated that all four hospitals are good ones, and that the same arguments could apply to all four. However, Kingston was particularly vulnerable because the other three were all protected. We all recognise that St George's is of regional significance, but in addition Mayday serves the most needy population in the area and therefore could not reasonably be reduced. And St Helier has just been awarded a huge investment from the Government for a major rebuild.

Christopher Smallwood also could not commit himself to campaign against possible cuts, because it was, he felt, not appropriate for the role. But he did say that campaigning on the issue was something that the MPs should do.

Much more was said, all of which backed up the MPs concerns.

At the end I proposed a motion. The Conservative councillors said they agreed with two of the four points, and could agree to another one if part of the sentence was removed. I offered to remove the point that they could not support and to alter the wording of the other one.

It looked as though we were going to have a consensus, but right at the last moment they asked me to remove the statement about the options, claiming that it was unsubstantiated. I refused to do that because Healthcare for SW London had already agreed that it was correct! It seems that the Tories were playing silly games and were determined to find any excuse not to support my motion.

Anyway, we voted on the motion and it was passed by the LIberal Democrats on the panel, with the Conservatives voting against - even though they had told me that they agreed with all three points!!

This is the motion that went through:

"This Panel is now aware of the content of extracts from a document entitled ‘South West London Strategic Plan’, which is marked ‘private and confidential’, ‘final draft December 18 2009’. The document includes options for change, under which Kingston Hospital would lose at least one major service in 16 of the 18 options identified. 6 of the 18 options would include the loss of Accident and Emergency and Maternity provision as well as Paediatric In-patient provision; 12 of the options would involve the loss of Paediatric In-patient provision; 8 of the options would remove Elective Surgery provision.

This Panel:

(i) Thanks the Chief Executive and Chairman of Kingston Hospital Trust for their evidence this evening and wishes to pass on its congratulations to the Trust and all members of staff for their invaluable contribution to the healthcare of their community;

(ii) calls upon NHS London to publish this document immediately;

(iii) requests, under Standing Order No 9, that this resolution is referred to the next meeting of Full Council on 30 March 2010. "

So there we are. Back again on 30th March.

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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