Health Centre Q & A’s

Proposed new Health Centre site

To the Wyvern Room! …on Sunday morning, via St Mary’s and the main William Loveless Hall.

That kinda morning, Comrades.

The occasion was the Wivenhoe Town Council Civic Service at the church.

This was lovely. Suited and booted, clean shaven (sort of) and in fine singing voice.

And that was just our town’s MP.

More from Bernard later.

Then it was back to WLH, sausage rolls and some warm red wine.

Chin chin.

Conversations were flowing along with the bolly. Added to the usual car parking and dog pooh debate was the new 2012 topic of conversation: the Wivenhoe Health Centre change of plan.

With so many of the suited, booted (and frocked) folk in the WLH being in a position of political power / political ineffectiveness, it was too good an opportunity not to try and come up with some solutions for the Health Centre situation.

The main focus of the morning was rightly the Civic Service; it was half decent however for WTC to put aside the Wyvern Room for Health Centre conversations, and slightly more than half decent for Bernard Jenkin to make himself available to try and answer any questions from concerned residents.

There’s always the ethical dilemma here of asking to record the session and *possibly* diluting the responses, or just going ahead and recording anyway. Bernard was happy for the recording to be made and published, and urged any residents to contact him with any further questions.

The impression I left with is that this was an honest and transparent exercise, something that has sadly been missing so far from the whole Health Centre situation.

Not many new points emerged, although the key question still remains why the chuffers did the Fire Station deal fall through? Answer that and we may be able to get the original project back on schedule.

Bernard’s answer:

“I don’t know. I have my suspicions. It is well known that Mr Gooch feels that land at the top of the village is suitable for housing development. He sees the surgery as a pre-cursor for that. I don’t know to what extent Wivenhoe residents would consider trading the benefits of that site for the surgery for housing.

The advantage of that site is that it is white land. White land doesn’t have planning permission for anything and so it’s value is only agricultural. If the surgery could acquire white land, then the money can be invested in the building, rather than paying for the site.”

The point was made that if we can find out what is the asking price for the Cook’s land, then as a community we would be in a position to try and find a possible alternative:

“My suspicion in these negotiations for land is that they [Realise Health Ltd] may not even have made an offer yet. They want to find out what the planning situation is. They won’t want to discuss in public what the offer might be until it has been agreed. We don’t know what has been offered for the Fire Station site either.

In an ideal world all of this will be done transparently and openly and people will know what the parameters of this will be before the decision is even made.”

As for the Cedric’s site?

“It [the surgery] has looked at the Cedric’s garage, but it thinks that the price is much too expensive. The more you pay for the site, the less you have for the practice.”

What solution does the town’s MP see?

“The only acceptable solution is one that is acceptable to patient’s that use the practice. I don’t think that it is for me to say what is acceptable.”

Traffic issues tailing down to Cook’s was then talked about.

Bernard added:

“The figure I have seen is that there will be 350 cars a day going down to the Cook’s Shipyard site. That’s a questionable number. If you think about it, there are four GP’s, and if they are all attending consultations all day, it is quite difficult to get up to 350.

The practice I understand monitored their patients for three weeks. Half their patients arrived by foot and half arrived by car. Only three patients over three weeks arrived by bus. If that’s the problem then it might just be easier to see them in their own homes.”

Add in Alresford and Elmstead:

“I think that this is the biggest question – it is driving people through the town.”

Concern then came about the current legal status of the project and the lack of consultation:

“I’m being assured that it is a decision for the GP’s to make. They aren’t going to make a decision until there has been a consultation about it. There is this new idea that has suddenly been introduced. Everybody is very surprised.”

Not half as surprised as the residents.

But when did Bernard first know about the change of plan?

“I was told about the possibility of Cook’s Shipyard in late August. I said: you’re telling me now – presumably you’re about to make an announcement. I was told that contracts were being negotiated and there would be an announcement soon after Friday. He we are two months later and there’s not been an announcement. It leaked out.

It was bound to come out some time. I am mystified by this. I don’t think that there is any malice behind it. It’s just a very difficult problem. It’s now out in the open, there’s going to be a discussion about it. If it’s not satisfactory to Wivenhoe residents, we’ll have to find another solution.”

On the matter of planning:

“I’ve checked with the Borough Council. Preliminary enquiries have been made. No application has gone in. The Practice would not want to make a firm offer for the site until it knows what the planning situation is. The planning permission will come first. Highways will take the view if this is a good decision in Highways terms.”

As for the take it or leave it speculation, Bernard confirmed that the £1.5m funding from the PCT will continue to exist, even when the organisation itself ceases to be a body sometime during the spring of 2013:

“I have been assured that this commitment to build a new surgery in Wivenhoe will be transferred to the new national commissioning board.”

Secrecy continued to a concern. Bernard was quizzed again about how this situation has been allowed to happen:

“I don’t think that anything has happened – it is what has not happened. For some reason there is no agreement between the Wivenhoe Surgery and the landowner behind the Fire Station about the terms in which this land is going to be transferred to the Health Centre.

I think he [Mr Gooch] wants to attach conditions or terms that he wants, or assurances that he wants, or configurations of the site that he wants. It has been very difficult for the surgery to bring this to a conclusion.”

Cllr Steve Ford, the Colchester Borough Council representative for Wivenhoe Quay ward stated:

“Many people that have spoken to me have suggested that they haven’t been kept in the loop.”

Bernard replied:

“You’re talking to another one. I don’t think that I was kept in the loop. We got this deal through with the health authority and I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought that we were home and dry. I hadn’t realised that they had made this commitment without securing the land. Then it went very quiet.

I chased and chased and chased. Eventually at the end of August I got this telephone call telling me what was now in the offering. I was asked not to say anything about it. I think that the Town Council was put in the same awkward position.

I don’t like being told stuff that I feel people have got a right to know, and then be told please don’t talk about it. The Town Council was put in the same difficult position. If it went public you could be disrupting negotiations.

We have been kept in the dark, but I don’t think that we have been kept in the dark so that a decision could be made behind our backs.”

If you knew, why didn’t you go public with it, asked another resident.

“That’s a very fair question. You’re sometimes in a situation when you think what is the best thing to do. How am I best going to achieve a new surgery in Wivenhoe. I thought that the announcement was going to be made very quickly and so that I wouldn’t be holding that bit of information for very long. As it dragged on I got more and more uncomfortable about it. When it came out I was quite relieved.”

Solutions were suggested, something which would greatly help at the next public meeting on 30th October. One idea raised was the issue regarding two possible surgeries for Wivenhoe:

“That is an interesting question, but it is a logistical question that I am not capable of answering. Maybe the nurses could be on a different site, although there is a great advantage of having everybody on the same site.”

The Philip Road Centre and the old Police Houses were also put forward:

“They are all perfectly legitimate ideas and people will have views about them. My preferred location is the Fire Station. I don’t think that is has gone past the point of no return. I was a bit surprised that the health authority made the announcement [back in February] without having secured the site.”

And so much like the WTC monthly meeting last Monday evening, the Q & A with Bernard Jenkin left many questions unanswered. This is no criticism, just an observation that this is a man who also appears to be seeking answers and solutions.

If the town’s MP is confused, then RHL really have done a decent job in keeping this change of plan away from public scrutiny.

Bernard added that he is unlikely to be able to make the meeting on the 30th, but will certainly send representation. Email questions are encouraged via perryc@parliament.uk.

The buzzing in the background in the Wyvern Room fridge, and not the start of construction for a new health centre for Wivenhoe.

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