Local NHS chiefs and health campaigners are locked in an increasingly bitter dispute about a £10 million scheme to replace a small hospital in a south Warwickshire market town.
The row between South Warwickshire Hospital Foundation Trust (SWFT) and the Ellen Badger Hospital League of Friends (LOF) over the replacement of the former cottage hospital in Shipston has become so acrimonious that it may end up in the courts.
The crux of the dispute is, bizarrely, whether the new building will be a hospital. SWFT insists it will be even though it is unlikely to have any inpatient beds, and LOF claims it won’t be a hospital if there are no beds. The old Ellen Badger hospital had 16 beds.
There have been public demonstrations and a petition signed by nearly 3,000 residents demanding a hospital with beds. At a public meeting, 300 people supported a vote of no confidence in SWFT. At the local elections in May, two Tory councillors lost their seats to the Greens who campaigned on the issue. And it’s reported in the Stratford Herald (1 June 2023, print version) that local MP Mr Nadhim Zahawi has asked SWFT to explain why the hospital won’t have beds.
Councillors have put further pressure on SWFT over its plans. The county council’s overview and scrutiny committee have called for a 12 week public consultation and Monday 10 June the district council is expected to approve a motion opposing the proposal to have no beds.
SWFT plans, LOF donation
SWFT has been developing plans for the site since 2018. They reviewed the situation (which took two years to complete) and recommended that the number of community beds across south Warwickshire should be increased from 35 to 41 but these should be provided at Leamington and Stratford, not Shipston. “These recommendations would mean permanently relocating the community hospital beds from Ellen Badger Hospital to Leamington Spa Hospital”, meaning that Ellen Badger would lose their beds.
LOF made a £635, 000 donation to SWFT to buy land next to the old hospital so it could provide a new hospital and a health and wellbeing hub. There were also plans to build a new GPs’ surgery on the same site to create a 21st century health campus.
The LOF donation had the condition that the site had to be developed ‘satisfactorily’ or it would ask for reimbursement.
The SWFT proposal outlined the services planned for the site, with the existing building providing a day hospital. The plans included a car park, “a Health and Well-being hub, shared spaces for Community Nursing and Health Visiting teams, outpatients and treatment rooms for physiotherapy, specialist nurses and other clinicians including mental health clinicians.”
The Trust said it hopes home-based therapy, which supports patients in their home after a stay in a main hospital, home-based overnight care and boosting the community response team will help prevent unnecessary hospital admissions. It says it will also work with hospices to support end-of-life patients to die at home.
The LOF consider that a day hospital is not a satisfactory development, as it does not include beds, and are now seeking re-imbursement of their donation, and their demonstrations and petitions called for a hospital with beds. They are threatening to take legal action to reclaim the £635,000 given to SWFT.
The LOF chair Professor Bryan Stoten said: “I’m tired of pretending that SWFT and the politicians are acting in good faith anymore. We are seeking to get our money so that it is spent on the care of Shipston residents, not on a car park.”
Danny Boyce, who organised some of the demonstrations, added: “The Badger has provided this town with health and care facilities for generations. Unfortunately the severe incompetence and mismanagement from SWFT has plagued the project from the beginning.
“As things currently stand there are no plans for beds within the new development. This means the already overbearing bed-blocking within acute hospitals will inevitably continue to worsen.”
In a letter to SWFT, Unity Legal Solutions, a law firm hired by the LOF, accused the Trust of using a review of beds in south Warwickshire to “deliberately” delay building a hospital without beds. It warned they could seek a High Court judicial review of SWFT’s handling of the matter.
SWFT’s definition of a hospital
But Glen Burley, the CEO of Swift, has responded by asking the Charity Commission whether the LOF would be acting lawfully in “withholding funds from a hospital.”
“We are also concerned that the activities of the charity have gradually become antagonistic towards the hospital” – and he warned that if the £635,000 had to be returned “the entire project will need to be reassessed.”
At a SWFT board meeting, Burley said: “It is a frustrating situation that we’ve got into. We approved a business case to invest in Ellen Badger but it has not been so well received by the League of Friends, who have commenced a campaign including a petition named ‘Save the Ellen Badger’ and what it is describing is a threat to the future of the hospital which isn’t real.
“Sadly, a lot of the people who have signed it are under the misapprehension that the hospital is under threat, which is disappointing.”
He insisted that the project will create a hospital and “what the LOF are slightly confused by is the word ‘hospital’, which for us is about a premises from which we deliver healthcare.
“It’s not necessarily about providing beds. But as we did with Stratford Hospital, we created a fantastic ambulatory hospital with not a bed in it. The future for hospitals is to keep people at home and not keep people in beds.”
Hitting back, Professor Stoten, who has held several senior jobs in the NHS, argued that an ambulatory hospital is “an oxymoronic idea. It is, in other words, an outpatient clinic or a minor injuries unit – one of which SWFT closed at the Badger only a few years ago because they claimed there was no demand.”
Work has started on the site.
The row between SWFT and LOF is casting a shadow over the Ellen Badger project, diverting attention from the fact that the NHS is making a £10 million plus investment in upgrading health facilities in the town. The new ‘hospital’ is due to open next year. Will that stop the bickering over beds?