Bedford Hospital chiefs accused of ‘ignoring patients’ as hydrotherapy pool decision looms

Bedford Hospital Hydrotherapy Pool
Bedford Hospital Hydrotherapy Pool has been closed since December 2019

Health chiefs are being recommended to go against the wishes of the vast majority of patients and stop using a run-down hydrotherapy pool in Bedford.

The Governing Body of the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will make the decision over the future of the service at a meeting in Flitwick today.

The pool at Gilbert Hitchcock House has not been used since November 2018.

The CCG say that Bedford Hospital’s tight budgets are better used on things like a much-needed CT Scanner, rather than spending £135,000 fixing the hydrotherapy pool at Gilbert Hitchcock House.

But background papers showed that 81 per cent of people who responded to a consultation exercise wanted to refurbish and re-open the pool.

In 2017, some 525 patients used the service a total 2,981 times. That fell to 476 referrals and 2,531 contacts in 2018 due to the closure of the pool.

Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Bedford Castle) said she was concerned because the majority of patients who were consulted “wanted to retain” the service as it was.

“What was the point of the consultation?” she asked. “When people are made aware of the recommendation, they are not going to feel very happy or listened to.”

Kevin Dale of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), said, “CSP raised its concerns at the start of the consultation that this must fully engage and respect the wishes of patients and staff.

“To ignore the outcome shows clearly that this was not the case and it appears Bedford hospital have ignored this and gone for the decision they wanted all along.

“Bedford hospital have failed to engage with CSP throughout this process as we sought to support our members but more importantly patients who are suffering due to the decision to close the pool.”

But Mike Thompson, Bedfordshire CCG’s chief operating officer, said that people were listened to but the decision has to be balanced with an “affordability test”.

The local NHS has so far found two pools, at Anjulita Court and the MS Therapy Centre, where they can continue to offer warm water therapies for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spondylo-arthropathy, chronic pain, neurological disorders and other musculoskeletal conditions.

“I share the disappointment of this committee,” said Cllr Kay Burley (Lab, Kempston Central & East) on Monday as she chaired a meeting of Bedford Borough Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

“It seems to be a sideways move and we need to protect what is going to happen in the future. We need to pursue the option of a new pool being designed into Gilbert Hitchcock House and get it formally into the plans.

“We are in a situation where we can’t say no to: It’s this or nothing.”

The committee was told that the service would continue to have a budget of £40,000, but it would be based in different swimming pools, and could increase if patients needed it.

And Mr Thompson said architects has been asked to design a pool for the redevelopment of Gilbert Hitchcock House into a health hub. He said he did not want to give a “false impression” that this would definitely happen because it has to pass NHS in business planning exercises.

Karen Ward, the chief operating officer at Bedford Hospital, said all its capital budget had been allocated this year, and was looking to be limited next year.

She told the committee that Bedford Hospital needs to spend money on a new CT Scanner.

“That would be the choice we have to make: A CT Scanner or the hydrotherapy pool,” she said.

The Bedfordshire CCG meeting will be held today from 11am at the Rufus Centre, Steppingley Road, Flitwick, MK45 1TH. It is a meeting held in public.

Words: David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter and Erica Roffe

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