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‘You had better be ready for a fight’

Pilgrims Hospices board gets rough ride over proposals to close the city inpatients’ ward

FACING THE CROWD: The hospice public meeting
FACING THE CROWD: The hospice public meeting

IF THE trustees of the Pilgrims Hospices took one thing away from a public meeting last week, it may be this line from former nurse Peggy Pryer:

“If you want to carry on these plans, be prepared for a fight.”

The mood of the meeting on Friday to discuss the future of the hospice, and more specific details around the planned closure of the Canterbury inpatient ward in 2016, was combative, despite the efforts of MP Julian Brazier to play peacemaker.


The tone was set early in the meeting, when a speaker turned to the 300-strong crowd to ask “Who here supports the plan?” The question was met with complete silence.

“And who here opposes it?”

PACKED: The meeting hall was full
PACKED: The meeting hall was full

she asked, and every hand in the auditorium shot up. Despite every effort from senior hospice staff for more than two hours, the meeting did not seem to change anyone’s mind, with hundreds storming out towards the close of the event. Trustees spoke from an elevated table at the front of the hail, flanked by loudspeakers, and large banners saying Ann Robertson, the founder of the Canterbury Pilgrims hospice, supported the plan. The board, which comprised hospices chief executive Steve Auty, Dr Richard Morey, chairman of the board of trustees, and Dr Claire Butler, the director of medicine and research at the hospice, were keen to show people how their plan was going to work. Announcements from the meeting included the promise that the inpatient beds in the London Road hospice would not close until Pilgrim-supported beds were available in the Canterbury area. Mr Auty said:

“These would most likely be in hospitals and care homes.”

Specific numbers and locations were not available, since, according to Dr Morey:

“We are still in the early stages.”

Members of the public were critical of the proposal, with one saying:

“The hospice isn’t just equipment, it’s an environment, which overworked hospital and care home staff will not be able to replicate.”

But Dr Morey said the decision was about improving care outside of hospices, rather than downgrading Pilgrims’ services. He said:

“This will allow us to educate professionals to a higher standard of care. The beds will be looked after by a combination of hospice and hospital staff.”

The meeting was chaired by Canterbury and Whitstable MP Julian Brazier, who set aside his previous concerns about the removal of the hospice’s beds so he could play an impartial role. During the meeting, Mr Brazier frequently had to remind people to remain calm and constructive. He said:

“This is a charity. At the end of the day, we can’t be on different sides, we need to be on the same team.”

In addition to Mr Brazier, some public figures were also in attendance, including the Bishop of Dover, the Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, and local councillors James Flanagan and Ida Linfield.


BIG LOSS: Pilgrims Hospice Canterbury has a special place in the hearts of many families it has helped
BIG LOSS: Pilgrims Hospice Canterbury has a special place in the hearts of many families it has helped

Cllr Flanagan raised a question about the hospice’s proposed expanded travel and accommodation services, to take people in Canterbury to and from the wards in Thanet and Ashford. In response, Mr Auty said:

“We have a very good driving service: we would expand it.”

Details were thin on the ground for a lot of the trustee’s planned initiatives, but Mr Auty said:

“That is why we have given ourselves two years to plan and co-ordinate this. We didn’t make this decision lightly. More than 70 staff and volunteers from the hospice were consulted. I do not see this as a top-down decision.”

But outside the meeting, the mood was frosts with hospice volunteers and members of the public describing the meeting as ‘a dismal failure”, and “a car crash.” The tone of the crowd was best summarised by one speaker near the end of the meeting, who asked the board

“Have you noticed that no-one here has agreed with you?”

Boss stands by decision but says message badly handled


MANY people in Friday’s meeting praised the hospice’s existing staff and services, as well as the idea of expanding that care into the community, and educating other healthcare professionals. But many were not swayed by Steve Auty’s arguments. Speaking the day before the meeting, chief executive Mr Auty explained what he wanted to get out of the gathering and why Pilgrims Hospices plans to close the ward. Mr Auty said:

“We want to listen to what the public’s concerns and ideas are, and we want to put across our points, what the reasons are for wanting to put across care in the future. I think there will be very little impact with the beds in Ashford and Thanet. We have the space to open six more beds in Ashford if necessary”

Mr Auty said the changes to the service, focusing more on care at home or in hospital, are necessary and driven more by changing demand than finances, although money is still a consideration. He said:

“There is an increasing demand for people who want to die at home, according to a national survey. Only half of these achieve it. We need to take more of our care out into the community. We have to put more of our resources out into the community. On any one day, there’s about 1,000 people in our care. Only about 40 are in the beds.”

And the chief executive said there are people backing the changes. He said:

“There’s been lots of positive feedback. People understand what we’re trying to do. There was a very interesting article from Sir Roger Gale, and people can see the logic in what we’re trying to do. We have to recognise people who say home care isn’t possible. Equally, inpatients’ care isn’t possible for some. We have to provide both, it’s not either or, it’s both.”

But Mr Auty acknowledged that the message could have been handled better, adding:

“I would have to say we have not communicated our plans very well, and I apologise. We should have done better. I think most people understand the logic of what we’re trying to do.”

Herne Bay Times, June 4th 2014


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