As someone who has followed the planned health service changes with a mixture of interest and alarm, I attended as an observer the meeting (July 5) regarding the closure of Portland Community Hospital beds.

Mr Shields, as Chief Executive of the responsible Health Trust, was under considerable pressure as he attempted to defend on purely pragmatic grounds what he clearly knew to be socially and clinically indefensible.

His essential point was that he could not provide the staff and that, while Portland was losing, the number of community hospital beds in, for example, Poole would increase.

This latter point was received with some derision. He attempted to put an optimistic gloss on things by saying “we need to look at alternatives... there are other ways.”

What was swiftly pointed out from the floor was that these were vague undertakings - and certainly not promises – for the future while the closure of the beds on Portland is imminent.

His plea that there would be “proper engagement” with what Portlanders want was given short shrift, in light of the extent to which consultation has already been ignored: “We do not believe what you say” was one immediate and blunt riposte.

What Mr Shields strongly hinted, but did not actually spell out with Mr Drax MP sitting next to him, was that the causes of his immediate problems - shortage of doctors and nurses, shortage of money to pay them in sensible working conditions, the only recently reviewed cap on foreign recruitment, the short-sightedness of removing the nurses’ training bursary - are essentially political.

Mr Drax undertook to take the points raised to the government. It must be noted, however, that Mr Drax’s own report in the Echo last month of his attempt to extract some concession from Mr Hunt met with a rebuff that, in spite of some ambiguity in Mr Hunt’s tone, seemed positively humiliating. We can expect little from that direction.

Barry Tempest
Romulus Close, Dorchester