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London's largest borough gears up for health fight

29 June 2016

The Chartwell Cancer Unit is to be moved to Denmark Hill, with the lost of many specialised cancer nurses.

Bromley is London’s largest borough and a well known Tory fortress. But even hardened political observers have been staggered by recent proposals for changes in the borough’s healthcare provision.

These include putting all the health-related community services out to tender and removing student nurses from primary and secondary schools.

Despite its size, the borough’s only hospital was closed in 2003, knocked down to be replaced with luxury flats about ten years ago – leaving Bromley without its own hospital.  Enter the Private Finance Initiative.

A new PFI facility was built on the old Farnborough Hospital site, and named The Princess Royal University Hospital, the PRUH. It cost £118 million to build, but the cost to the taxpayer will be far more. The current payback now stands at an eye-watering £1.5 billion

Why it was called a university hospital is a mystery, given that Farnborough Hospital was in fact a teaching hospital with a grand history of nurse training.

As with many hospitals then, the students lived, trained and worked there throughout their nurse training. Yet when the new PFI hospital was named a university, all the in-house nurses’ courses were stopped.

Under siege

The community of Bromley have sat back and allowed this to happen with barely a whimper, though Unison in Bromley fought tooth and nail at every opportunity. But if ever there was a time when this Conservative castle could find itself under siege, that time is now.

Within the past few weeks the community have been dealt news that should make most sane people with a interest or concern in there own healthcare provision ‎sit up and take notice.

First on the proposed agenda is the tender of every single community services to the highest bidder, giving the privateers the chance to snaffle all of London’s largest borough’s community services in one fell swoop.

Next up on the “to do” list is the disbanding of the borough’s whole-school nurse team. The mantra used to be “from cradle to grave” but it seems to have an addendum: “but not from the ages of four to sixteen”. 

Meanwhile back at PRUH there is a consultation on outsourcing the hospital’s pathology services and close the in-house service – a move that Unison foresees will not impress the service users.

As in many hospitals, the demand for blood tests is enormous, resulting in an Argos-style “take your ticket” system. You have to wait an hour to have your blood taken, and waiting rooms are often full by 8 am most mornings. “Moving the service is a grade A mistake of the first order,” a local union official told CPBML News.

Consultation sham

The official had no faith in the consultation process. “I’m afraid a consultation is now just a word that gives the daft the thought they might just get their valid point across, and somehow influence the decision makers,” he said.

The last straw in this litany of destruction is the announcement that Bromley’s Chartwell Cancer Unit, based in the PRUH, is to close and relocate to Denmark Hill, south London, despite a spirited campaign by Unison.

A fair few of the specialist cancer nurses have resigned because travel to its new site is too expensive and time-consuming. The rest may be lost to the cancer service and redeployed to other clinical areas. “To lose our specialist cancer nurses is a outrage that must be flagged up to all,” said the official. “These front line issues are public concerns, our concerns, workers’ concerns.”   

The gloves are coming off and a bare-knuckle fight is on the horizon if the workers of Bromley are up for it.