Another winter, another crisis at Addenbrooke’s – but this feels more serious

You can read the article by Gemma Gardner in the Cambridge Independent here. It’s worrying reading. Above – the picture of the old Addenbrooke’s.

TL:DR. ***Eeek!*** If you’re interested in following up these things and helping with solutions, see the Cambridgeshire Healthwatch meeting on 10 November 2021. See also their annual reports from 2014/15 onwards. People can also volunteer at Addenbrooke’s as they have done for centuries, (it’s over 250 years old), and/or support the charitable trust of the hospital. None of these things can compensate for the successive health policy failures of ministers though.

Covid getting worse – just like last year.

The Government’s handling of the pandemic definitely has not helped either. The weekly death rate is frightening – and yet ministers and the political media seem to have accepted this as normal. It isn’t. See for the latest updates.

“There are 900-1,000 beds across Cambridge University Hospitals, but 150 were closed on Tuesday due to infection control and the reconfiguration required due to the pandemic. Today (Thursday), there were 100 closed to new admissions, of which 40 were empty.”

Gemma Gardner in Cambridge independent 03 Nov 2021

Had ministers acted properly and listened to the experts and had taken more significant steps to protect schools and reduce the spread, one of the SAGE advisers to the Government might not have resigned 2 days ago, and our hospitals might be in a better situation.

“These crises seem to happen every year – why can’t anyone stop them?”

I found out the hard way what a winter crisis at Addenbrooke’s looks like when I had a suspected minor heart attack in December 2017. Inevitably I spent a lot of time watching, listening, and asking questions. Not least because I wasn’t allowed out of bed, let alone out of the ward. I was strapped up to machines. At the time no one had a good word to say about the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was coming under fire left right and centre at the time – see the start of this blogpost. So I was gutted first when the 2019 General Election was called – a massive strategic error by the opposition parties who should have insisted that the ISC Report was published prior to it. Had they done so, the result could have been different – not least because the conduct of the Prime Minister, then as Foreign Secretary was under significant scrutiny. That the former Health Secretary – who contested the leadership (and lost) was then elected by MPs to chair the Health Select Committee had me even more concerned. It’s far too short a time period from his own tenure to be scrutinising his own homework.

Looking into very long term things again – things outside of the remit of any hospital chief executive

I’m not going to have a pre-prepared answer. Hospital administration is one of those devilishly complex things – especially as healthcare procedures and techniques are now at levels that are now ever so futuristic even in this present day.

One thing that has remained an issue is that healthcare is outside the remit of local government. This was one of the results of the creation of the NHS as an agency of national government rather than having hospitals and GP surgeries rolled into the responsibilities of local government. Thus there isn’t the interaction that there needs to be between the needs of hospitals and how local government actions can help reduce pressures.

This is why when we look at the annual reports here, it’s not as simple as looking at the income over time and wondering why certain things have not happened. The national picture pre-pandemic was published by the Office for National Statistics here. Followed by the battle of which political party spent more nominally, in real terms, had the biggest rises in expenditure, and had the biggest proportion of national income spent on health. You cannot take politics out of healthcare. The amount of resources and the manner in which services are delivered (free at the point of use or otherwise) is an inherently political decision. Privatisation or nationalisation does not take the politics out of it, as both ends of that spectrum are political positions in themselves.

What price/cost preventative policies?

Having Dr Nik Johnson as Mayor for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough bringing his medical background into the post has resulted in a stronger public health focus – in particular with his active travel focus. We’ll see what this really looks like in terms of serious policies when he publishes the full Local Transport and Connectivity Plan in early 2022. At the moment there’s a consultation on vision, aims, and values – see – and if you think it should involve light rail similar to what Cambridge Connect is proposing, you’ll need to mention it in the free text boxes at the start of the consultation online form responses.

It’s not just waiting for ministers to hand out the money though. The model of government we have in the UK – and especially in England, is an over-centralised one. It’s one where everyone has to wait for ministers to distribute the bounty. Very few institutions have their own revenue raising powers, and even those are curtailed by central government. For example Addenbrooke’s despite being in the middle of one of the few economic successes in the country (Cambridge’s economy generally) is unable to tap into any of that wealth, whether through taxation or otherwise, because ministers haven’t given them the legal powers to do so. The principle is they do not want to see local politicians and council finance chiefs taking punitive action against the wealthy to fund their schemes. This became a dominant theme in the 1980s on the debate on how local government finance should be reformed. It resulted in the disaster that was the poll tax / community charge, and we’ve been on the stop-gap ever since. (If you’ve ever wondered why the amount of council tax you pay is indexed to house-prices in the early 1990s, that’s why: successive Chancellors have left it in the ‘too difficult to deal with’ box).

Finally, there are other issues that affect the hospital such as ability to recruit. High housing costs and poor transport links for a site that big with that many specialist staff requires far, far better transport links than it has at present, and far more accommodation for key workers within walking distance. Successive local plans have failed on this. Successive transport plans have also failed on this. Hence why I support strongly the Cambridge Connect Light Rail plan because it removes many of the traffic jams from west of, and east of Cambridge at a stroke. The ability to catch a light rail from either Cambourne or Haverhill directly to the hospital site is a straight-forward one for me. Yet the Hospital has no influence on that decision.

Above – please can we have this?

If you want to get involved or find out more about the proposals above, click on the link here for details.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

%d bloggers like this: