Our elected representatives had a busy Monday. As well as the borough’s three MPs and short-attention-span councillors turning out at the Town Hall for the Mayor-making in the evening, earlier in the day many of them were in attendance for the formal opening of Mayday Hospital’s £21million Accident and Emergency department.
But after the morning’s ceremonies at the hospital a spat broke out on Twitter which was worthy of a kids’ playground. The online argument was caused by rival politicians jostling on social media to take the credit for the hospital improvement; it was a wonder that the doctors and nurses at the A&E unit were not called into action to patch up some of the wounded pride of both factions.
Mayday’s new A&E department actually opened its doors last December, but Monday’s formal proceedings took place because Matt Hancock, the Conservative government’s Secretary of State for Health, managed to find a window in his diary for a good-news photo-op.
There is no doubt that the new A&E is indeed very good news.
The building offers high-quality facilities that have been designed by Mayday’s doctors and nurses to create the best environment in which to care for patients. The department is nearly one-third bigger than the previous emergency department.
There are separate paediatric waiting areas – one for children under 12 and the other for adolescents – plus an outdoor space and nine paediatric patient rooms where they can receive care.
There are mental health liaison rooms offering private and appropriate spaces where nurses can assess people who need specialist care. In addition the department includes a new Urgent Treatment Centre with six consultation rooms and a treatment room where people with less serious ailments can be looked after by qualified staff.
The new emergency department also includes three GP hubs, where patients can get same-day appointments if they need to see a doctor but do not require emergency care.
Croydon South MP Chris Philp ventured into the north of the borough to accompany his Tory parliamentary colleague, along with a gaggle of Conservative councillors, including local leader Tim Pollard.
Also out in force were Labour politicians, including MPs Sarah Jones and Steve Reed OBE, and some of their councillors, many of whom also tried to score political points over the improved health provision, which – it is worth remembering – was all paid for out of the public’s taxes.
In the tit-for-tat which ensued, what Sir Robin Day once described as our “here today, gone tomorrow” politicians managed to overlook that this long overdue improvement work had been lobbied for over decades by their predecessors, going back to Valerie Shawcross and Geraint Davies, the former Labour leaders of Croydon Council.
Davies also campaigned for Mayday improvements when he was MP for Croydon Central, a position he has not held since 2005, so this is far from an overnight transformation with funds finally allocated when a Conservative government happened to be in power.
Indeed, it has taken red- and blue-hued governments so long to get round to provide the cash for the Mayday upgrade that efforts to “future-proof” the A&E by making it much bigger than demand levels dictate may have already been overtaken by events, as the new unit was reporting being close to 100 per cent capacity, or close to it, within days of its opening in the winter.
So much so that, within the various press releases and statements issued to mark the opening of the shiny new A&E unit, NHS mandarins had carefully inserted a sentence or two recommending that Croydon’s sick or injured should, instead of taking advantage of Mayday’s 24/7 purpose-built facility, consider schlepping along to Purley Hospital during opening hours (8am to 8pm), or even not bother the over-stretched NHS hospital staff at all, but to phone 111 for medical advice.
Mayday is already facing its latest staffing crisis, with a Brexit-inspired exodus of nursing staff, and a near total stop of qualified nurses from other EU countries coming to London to work.
Indeed, reports suggest that the hospital, which is supposed to have 16 consultant doctors on its A&E staff, is trying to get by with just seven.
And while Hancock and Philp were keen to take credit for the A&E opening, a charity is having to go cap-in-hand to the public to raise an additional £750,000 to pay for an upgraded children’s cancer unit at Mayday, because the NHS doesn’t have the money to pay for it. That’s right, a children’s cancer unit.
Unshamed by such parsimony, Philp issued a statement yesterday which chose to boast about a funding “boost” for the NHS, in which he claimed that it “puts the lie to Labour’s claim that the NHS is being underfunded”.
Philp has presumably forgotten that when the Prime Minister, Theresa Mayhem, tried to play that line earlier this month, Channel 4 News’s Factcheck service accused her of “not telling the whole story” on health funding. They were being polite.
Because the figures show that health budgets grew at an average rate of just 1.3 per cent a year between 2010 and 2016 (under Tory-controlled governments), compared to an average of 5.6 per cent a year between 1997 and 2010, which was when Labour was in power.
A £21million A&E unit in Croydon, therefore, is just playing catch-up with public health demand in south London.
Meanwhile, across the borough boundary in Sutton, Hancock’s health department is working on the dismantling of the A&E department at St Helier Hospital (where will its patients go if it does close?, you may well wonder), and they might also lose the maternity unit and other acute services, too.
“The NHS is one of the best things about our country, and was recently given a national funding boost of £394million a week by the government,” Philp said. “I hope to see these investments continue to be spent well and will do everything I can to help improve our local healthcare.” Which is no more than an MP ought to do.
Philp’s mate, Hancock, during his half-hour visit to Mayday did his utmost to try to give the credit to Croydon’s last remaining Tory MP for securing an improvement scheme which had been discussed for 20 years before Philp even entered parliament.
The politicians then entered some pathetic pissing contest to see who could claim to care most about the health service.
Hancock said, “I care deeply about the NHS, we care deeply about the NHS, and we’re making sure that it’s there for all the people of Croydon, as with the whole of the rest of the country.” Except for St Helier, and Epsom, where their hospital land is being flogged off piecemeal and services downgraded. Hancock didn’t mention that.
Some local politicians, such as council cabinet member Jane Avis, wisely opted to celebrate the fact that the long-needed upgrade had taken place at all.
“Extremely impressive state-of-the-art facilities with dedicated children area, private consultation rooms and much more. Congratulations CUH,” she wrote.
Croydon’s first woman MP, Sarah Jones, tweeted, “Pleased to be at the opening of Croydon’s new A&E with Croydon Labour colleagues today – credit to the hardworking NHS staff who have delivered it. We will continue to fight for better funding and facilities for our health service.”
Others, however, were busy playing politics with our NHS yesterday, jumping in on an unseemly, attention-seeking spat.
It was prompted when Reed sought to state Labour’s case.
“Official opening today of Croydon’s new A&E – secured after Labour got the hospital taken off the Tory closure list and campaigned for new investment instead,” tweeted the Croydon North MP.
Some local Tories, such as relatively new councillor Helen Redfern, sought to deny that a Tory closure list ever existed (when it certainly did, and certainly included Mayday).
“We all know that the hospital was never on a ‘closure list’ and that it was a Conservative government that continued to invest in the NHS – no thanks to you/Labour at all,” Redfern claimed.
Either she was deliberately lying, or trying to rewrite documented NHS history, or Redfern simply has not yet caught up with the background documents issued by the health department, which had earmarked two out of five named hospitals, including St Helier and Croydon, for closure.
Redfern’s argument was not helped, either, by social media interventions from Conservative activists from the north of the borough, including one who last year was chastised publicly by five senior clerics for his part in a misleading Tory election leaflet about the church’s relationship with the council.
Reed, though, had a ready response for Redfern and her colleagues.
Mayday “only came off that closure list after Labour campaigned to remove it as the key plank of our 2017 General Election campaign in Croydon,” he fired back.
“The investment was provided, and the hospitals taken off the closure list, after voters deprived the Conservatives of their majority in parliament and forced them to U-turn on their destructive plans.” Which is close to being the case, though there is more than a suspicion that Mayday was only making up the numbers on the closure list, and that St Helier and Epsom were always most under greatest threat.
And in all of this, sight of one important aspect of the morning’s procedures was lost on our credit-claiming politicians.
The ceremonial opening by the government minister saw Hancock unveil a plaque that honoured two dedicated and hard-working members of NHS staff, Hassina Fowle and Audrey Cross.
Between them, Fowle and Cross worked at Mayday for a combined 50 years, in A&E and maternity units.
According to the Croydon Guardian, Fowle herself was diagnosed with life-threatening ovarian cancer in 1997, yet continued to work at the hospital until she died in 2014, when aged 64. Cross too, lost her life to cancer, in 2015, aged 63.
The hospital hopes that the plaque in the new A&E department is a fitting memorial for the women’s long years of service.
Inside Croydon has not managed to find a single mention of the plaque and what it represents posted on social media by any of the politicians involved in yesterday’s squabble.
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