The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust is moving most of its ear, nose and throat (ENT) outpatient services to ‘start of the art’ facilities at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley.
The move prompted Healthwatch Reading and some patient groups to seek reassurances and clarity over the plans. (see box)
The hospital says ENT, audiology and plastic surgery services have been located in substandard buildings on the Royal Berkshire Hospital site in central Reading, which ‘caused concern’ to external inspectors last year.
ENT surgeon Rogan Corbridge said: “We will retain some clinics and surgery at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) for the convenience of those people who live close to the Reading site, but the whole team are looking forward to the opportunity to be able to provide our services out of a purpose built modern facility.
“One big benefit at Townlands is that thanks to the modern air handling system there we only have to leave a 20 minute ‘rest’ period between patients to comply with Covid rules, currently at the RBH we have to leave rooms for an hour between patients. So the move to Townlands means we can see more patients each day.”
Healthwatch Reading's questions to the hospital:
1. How will people qualify to use the smaller service staying in Reading?
Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust said: 'To ensure that patients living in Reading are not disadvantaged, an ENT hub has been created at the RBH for patients living closer to the site.' The hospital wouldn't operate any postcode boundary but patients outside of the central Reading area would be encouraged to use Townlands.
2. Will services offered in Reading and Townlands be the same?
The trust said ENT and audiology would be centred at Townlands and replicated within the smaller hub being retained at the RBH. Plastics clinics would be centred at Townlands, while any operations needed for patients would take place at the RBH. The hearing aid repair service would also remain at the RBH.
3. What evidence is there of discussion with local people about the plans?
The move was a 'rapid response to Covid' meaning the hospital had not had a chance to engage patients on specific plans but all viewpoints would have been considered.
4. Is the move permanent?
The move is temporary, under a 12 month lease with Townlands, and during this time the hospital would evaluate how it worked for patients and staff.
South Reading Patient Voice (SRPV) questions:
This group, made up of patient participation group members from various Reading GP practices, wrote to the trust and also asked about consultation. It was told that the hospital had sought formal advice and been told that, because the move was temporary, and it was retaining some services in Reading, it had not needed to undertake a consultation exercise.
Tom Lake from SRPV also asked questions on the topic at a Reading Borough Council policy committee meeting on August 24. These included whether the council had been consulted, and the cost of any improved public transport to Henley.
Announcing the plans, Nicky Lloyd, acting chief executive of the trust, said the move “may mean longer journeys” for some patients, but it would work with councils and travel companies to support travel to Henley. “Where possible, we will continue to encourage patients to opt for virtual appointments and check-ups from the convenience of their own homes, without the hassle of journeys, parking, taking time off work and arranging child care,” she added.