In my six years as MP the well-being of our hospitals, and in particular the County Hospital in Hereford, has always been a paramount concern.
Readers with unusually good memories may recall that the first debate I ever called in the House of Commons was on parking charges at Hereford Hospital in 2010.
I then found out that those charges were set not by the Hospital itself but by a Private Finance Initiative contractor, and I led a successful campaign which significantly helped the Hospital to reduce its PFI costs.
I have also helped to secure better cross-border healthcare for Herefordians, and more investment in out-of-hours GP services.
So I was very concerned to discover last week that plans were well advanced for a formal link between the South Warwickshire Foundation Trust (SWFT) and the Wye Valley Trust, which runs both Hereford Hospital and the hospitals in our county towns.
They plans come at a time when the Chair of the Hospital has abruptly stepped down, and the Chief Executive is due to move elsewhere.
Moreover, the Care Quality Commission is expected to announce imminently that the Hospital has now left Special Measures, which would be a huge achievement by the staff after much hard work.
The well-known and highly rated Health Service Journal supported my position on Monday in an article saying that senior personnel from SWFT are due to take over as Chair and Chief Executive of the Wye Valley Trust shortly.
Let’s be clear: SWFT is a well-regarded organisation; it has acted as “buddy” to the County Hospital during Special Measures; and the longer-term link-up may be a good idea, and very much in the interest of the Hospital, doctors, staff and local patients.
But we have no way of knowing either way, because there has been no notification or consultation at all with those affected.
That is why I have called for an immediate halt to the tie-up, and why I will continue to press for proper consultation and reflection.
Key questions need to be publicly addressed. What time commitments will senior SWFT management make to the Hospital? What guarantees will SWFT give on keeping services and staff at Hereford? What plans do they have for new investment? Where does this arrangement leave the Hospital’s board of directors? How long will the link-up last?
We need to know the answers to these questions, and quickly.