Representatives from groups campaigning to save the Royal Berkshire Hospital hydrotherapy pool from closure including; Arthritis Matters, REACH, MS Society, Berks DPAC, Berkshire MS Therapy Centre, Peapods, Reading Fibromyalgia Support Group, Parkinson’s Society and Reading Families Forum, were out in force last night (Jan 25th) to lobby hospital governors and management. They had submitted a series of public questions seeking a public apology for statements made denigrating the effectiveness of the only treatment that brings pain relief and mobility to many with disabilities and chronic pain conditions. They also pressed for a formal acknowledgement of the 'proven clinical benefits' of hydrotherapy.
On behalf of the RBH management, who have already agreed to defer the planned pool closure until June, hospital chair Graham Sims apologised for the way the issue had been handled and for any offence caused to patients and their families. New Chief Executive Steve McManus put on record the value of hydrotherapy and confirmed his intention to work with the campaigners on looking at how the service can best be provided in the Reading area. However, neither he Mr Sims were able to confirm that there would be no gaps in provision to patients after June. This prompted former Reading West MP and MS Therapy Centre patron Martin Salter to write to Mr Sims demanding assurances.
In his letter Mr Salter described the statements by the RBH management as "an excellent basis upon which to move forward" but warned any gap in the hydrotherapy service would be 'a deal breaker' in any future cooperation.
However, there remains considerable unhappiness at the failure to give us a categorical assurance last night that there will be no gaps in provision. With the best will in the world there is no way any alternative hydrotherapy service is likely to be up and running by the end of June which means that the current pool must be kept operational to provide treatment and pain relief to those who need it. This is a deal breaker - make no mistake about that - but it is easily resolvable by either you or Steve issuing that assurance.
I hope you will be able to do this swiftly so that we can all move on and consolidate the excellent progress that was made last night.
This was echoed by Reading West MP Alok Sharma who added:
"I am looking forward to the consultation process by the hospital as it seeks detailed views about the hydrotherapy pool and the campaigners Stakeholder Engagement Group will look to work closely with CEO Steve McManus and his team. However it is imperative that, whatever solution is agreed for continuing to deliver a hydrotherapy service, there must be no time gap in provision. This is a vital service which many patients depend on and I would welcome a formal commitment from the hospital that a gap in provision will be avoided."
The campaign received a further boost this week when Reading Borough Councillors unanimously approved a strongly worded motion opposing the planned closure.
Chair of the Council's Health & Wellbeing Board, Councillor Graeme Hoskin said:
" I was pleased to take a motion to Full Council meeting this Tuesday where Reading Borough Council unanimously expressed its opposition to the closure of the hydrotherapy pool and our belief that the resulting impact on the health of users of the pool will far outweigh any short-term financial savings to the hospital We also welcome the extension of proposed closure to the end of June. This will allow the Trust time to engage with stakeholders, current users of the pool and partners, including the local authority and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups."