LABOUR'S prospective parliamentary candidate for the Isle of Wight has written to Conservative candidate Bob Seely with questions and concerns about the Island's NHS.

Richard Quigley said the matter was the one raised more than any other in his conversations around the Island.

Of particular concern is the future of St Mary's Hospital, having seen key services moved to the mainland over the last decade.

Mr Quigley said: "My top priority, if elected, will be to secure the future of our Island's NHS service.

"In particular, I'll ensure that St Mary's is funded properly on the basis of need.

"We must recognise that the Solent makes the Island a special case, even if on the mainland our population would not justify a full general hospital.

"I would therefore be interested in your answers to the following questions:

"You have referred repeatedly to securing £48m for St Mary's. Can you clarify this is entirely new money and what new provision at the hospital will it be used for?

"What will you do to address the large number of staff vacancies at St Mary's?

"How will you restore adequate mental health provision to the Island after the closure of three day centres?

"When will Compton and Shackleton wards be funded to re-open?

"What will you do to reduce the Accident and Emergency waiting times at St Mary's?

"Can you guarantee the Isle of Wight will not see the removal of operations such as hip and knee replacements from local NHS provision?

"Given recent GP closures, how will you ensure full access to a local GP is restored to all Islanders?

"I recognise you are in a difficult position, because I have no doubt you want the best possible service for Islanders, even though you've supported a government which is responsible for the systematic underfunding which has left our NHS in such a crisis.

"However, I believe that Islanders deserve an answer to these questions before going to the polls on December 12."

UPDATE 11.30am Tuesday.

Mr Seely responded:

"The future of our health service is undoubtedly one of the major issues in this election – and it is one which I have been focused on since first being elected in 2017. I would like to start by acknowledging the important work done by NHS staff on the Island.

"In every general election, Labour claim that the NHS is under imminent threat. However, for the vast majority of the NHS’s existence it has been managed under a Conservative Government – i.e. it has continued to provide high quality services following successive Conservative election victories.

"It remains publicly owned and free at the point of use. We are now investing record sums on the NHS; and indeed, it is only under Labour that spending has been cut – or badly managed, as it is in Wales.

"By re-electing a majority Conservative Government, we can ensure further improvements to the NHS are secured, with unprecedented investment over the coming years.

"In your letter, you set out that St Mary’s must be funded properly on the basis of need, and that we must recognise that the Solent makes the Island a special case.

"I agree, and this has now been recognised by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, following my intervention. This is set out in my recent Island Deal letter to the Prime Minister: I ask that the Government addresses the significant additional costs of healthcare on – and patient travel from – the Isle of Wight.

"In July the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care agreed that “on Island healthcare costs, … the Isle of Wight is unique in terms of its health geography” and “there are places in this country probably including the Island, almost certainly, where healthcare costs are increased”. The Island’s NHS Trust states that “the Island’s population is around half of that normally needed to sustain a traditional District General hospital”.

Mr Seely then detailed the estimated annual additional costs of providing healthcare on the IW.

He said: "The Isle of Wight Council funds some cancer patient travel, although it is under no obligation to do so. The ferry operators, in addition, offer reduced fares (again with no obligation to do so, thereby meaning that such concessions are always at risk of being lost).

"I believe the same standards should be applied to the Island as apply to the Isles of Scilly. I would ask that a £5 maximum fare be agreed, to be funded as part of the Isle of Wight Settlement." 

In answer to the questions:

• The £48m secured for the St Mary’s is new money for the Island. It is investment which we would not have secured, for the benefit of the Island, if we (i.e. myself as MP and the Isle of Wight NHS Trust) had not set out a persuasive case to the Government. In terms of the detail of how this will be invested, I point you to the three-year Isle of Wight Health and Care Plan which was published in September. This plan sets out how the £48m forms part of a wider strategy for supporting Islanders, on the Island, for their healthcare provision.

• I share your concern over the number of vacancies at St Mary’s. There are a number of things which can be done to address this. Firstly, I understand this will be significantly reduced by early next Spring, thanks to the training of new nurses from the Island and elsewhere. Secondly, we need to work to make the Island an even more attractive place to live and work for these key public sector workers. This will be boosted by having an Island Plan that focuses on providing affordable housing for local people and key workers (and in some instances – both). Thirdly, the Health and Care Plan sets out how this will be addressed.

• In terms of mental health provision, the Conservative Party has set out a clear commitment to increase funding to record levels to ensure everyone receives the care they needed. At least £2.3 billion of the £33.9 billion funding boost for the NHS will be for mental health, and funding will grow as a share of the overall NHS budget over the next five years. This will improve access to treatment for everyone with a focus on prevention, community services and young people. With regard to the Island, the Health and Care Plan has a dedicated section on mental health.

• You raise concerns about two individual wards. To be clear, it is for the local health service to decide on the configuration of wards – these are operational matters. It is, however, worth noting that Shackleton is just four beds.

• I share your concern over waiting times in A&E. The increase in funding for the NHS will seek to address this. Islanders generally have a highquality patient experience when visiting A&E. We must focus on ensuring that this is provided in a more timely manner. The plans to improve staffing will help.

• You ask about the potential removal of certain operations from local provision. It is unrealistic for you to suggest I can provide a guarantee about the future provision of specialist services, any more than you could provide any such reassurance. There will be professional and operational decisions as to how services are best provided, and all of us with a degree of influence will seek to encourage the retention of key services on the Island. However, the Trust is aiming to return some treatment from the mainland to the Island. We also envisage fewer patient journeys to the mainland thanks to the pioneering of telemedicine. In a world of increasingly complex medical procedures and specialisation, whilst most services will remain on the Island, very particular and bespoke services will continue to be provided on the mainland.

• In terms of GP access, there is a trend towards bigger, multi-GP practices. This has some benefits as it can result in the provision of a greater range of services for patients through primary care, meaning fewer journeys to St Mary’s and more care closer to home. It is always important, however, that GPs keep personal contact with patients. So, whilst I support larger practices where appropriate, surgeries need to be kept as near to peoples’ homes as possible. I am deeply unhappy with the lack of support given to Brading surgery over the past five years and am working with the health officials, other GPs and the Brading community on this issue now. Earlier this year NHS England awarded new funding of £400,000 to the Island to help support GPs and their practices on the Island improve their ability to deliver the best possible care for their patients. This includes looking at the recruitment and retention of GPs. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has pledged to create 50 million more GP appointments a year by recruiting 6,000 new doctors to general practice by 2024/25.

Mr Seely continued: "I hope the detailed answers provide some indication of the level of detailed interest and commitment I have in advocating the best possible health provision for the Island." 

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