A hospital boss today called for the public to become less reliant on A&E units as she prepared to face hundreds of campaigners fighting to save Charing Cross hospital.
Dr Tracey Batten, the new chief executive of Imperial College NHS trust, said the NHS had to switch priority from “illness to wellness” in a major reorganisation of services across north-west London.
Imperial has been hit by a backlash from Save Our Hospital campaigners, Labour MPs and Hammersmith and Fulham council over plans to axe 336 inpatient beds at Charing Cross and turn it into a much smaller daycare hospital.
Dr Batten used an interview with the Standard ahead of the trust’s annual meeting tonight to call for the public to be better educated in the benefits of being treated at home or in the community rather than in hospital.
She says preventative care could minimise the risk of heart attack, while alternative “pathways of care” could be developed for stroke patients and those undergoing hip replacements.
She said: “One thing I would say about this reorganisation is that if you look at the NHS, it has traditionally been quite an illness-led healthcare system.
“When people get sick, they come into hospital and we treat them incredibly well. That has skewed healthcare dollars towards the hospital end of the provision.
“There is no doubt going forward we do need to shift from an illness to a wellness model. We do need to shift the balance between you getting ill and coming into my hospital and us keeping you well at home.”
Despite the closure two weeks ago [September 10] of the emergency unit at Hammersmith hospital, also run by Imperial, and its replacement with an urgent care centre, Dr Batten insisted changes at Charing Cross would not happen “for a couple of years”.
Its A&E will become an “emergency centre” – but she admitted she was not yet sure what this would contain due to the lack of “crystal clear” guidance from NHS England.
“It doesn’t surprise me that people are very attached to the physical hospital and the A&E department because of what it symbolises,” she said. “But should we be so reliant on them in the way we have been? No we shouldn’t.
“If you take my mum in her 80s, is she better turning up to the A&E department? It’s the last thing she wants to be doing. She wants to get the care she needs in her local community or at home. I think that is the same for most of us.
“If people knew they had different options [to A&E], they would probably go for these different options.”
She added: “At the AGM, it’s about trying to give them that reassurance that we’re not going to do this in a vacuum. You can never engage too much and you can never communicate too much. We haven’t been perfect. I would be the first to admit that.”
But the Australian, who arrived at Imperial in April, said she had no wish to abandon the principles of the controversial Shaping a Healthier Future strategy, which reduces from nine to five the number of A&Es in north-west London.
“You can go round the mulberry bush many times. I’m not sure that is going to get us much further than where we are.”
* The Duchess of Cambridge would be welcomed with “open arms” by St Mary’s hospital if she chose it for the birth of her second child.
Kate gave birth to Prince George last year at the private Lindo wing, and she is expected to return there next year. The Lindo was also where Princess Diana gave birth to William and Harry.
Dr Batten said: “We would obviously be delighted if she decides to have her second child here. We would embrace her with open arms. We obviously don’t as yet know. I gather it went extremely well last time, and if we get the opportunity we would love to do another one.”