Article - Local Healthcare

As I write this column, I am on the way to one of my regular meetings with the Chair and the Chief Executive of Dorset County Hospital. 

Over the years, these meetings have taken many forms. 

Time was, when the hospital moved from one kind of crisis to another in fairly rapid succession. Readers who were living locally at the tail-end of the last century and in the early years of the present century will no doubt be able to recall that period and will remember how close to bankruptcy DCH came and how lacklustre it's clinical performance was in those days. At that time, the Yeatman in Sherborne and the Community Hospital in Bridport shone much brighter than our County Hospital. 

How different the picture is today! 

Over last winter, when many hospitals around the country were experiencing severe pressures on their accident and emergency services, DCH was meeting all the targets for rapid response without in any way compromising the quality of its outcomes - and it has just recently received a welcome dollop of additional funding from NHS England in recognition of that achievement. 

This, together with very careful management of its own finances, has enabled DCH to balance its books in the last financial year - a feat achieved only by very few hospitals. This isn't to say that life is easy for those managing the hospital. There continue to be profound challenges for all small district general hospitals - and DCH is no exception. There are posts to fill, problems getting permission to bring additional medics into the country to fill some of them, pressures on beds needed to permit non-urgent operations to be performed in a timely way, and a continuing need to improve the integration of the hospital with the primary care and social care system. 

But we should celebrate the fact that the County Hospital is meeting these challenges with huge success. 

What makes all of this particularly encouraging is that it has happened during a period in which the health and social care system as a whole has been facing huge pressures as the rate of increase in its funding and its lack of integration has left it unable to deal fully with the rate of increase in demand created by the ageing of our population. 

Now, at last, this fact is increasingly being recognised on all sides in Parliament - as the deficit in the public finances shrinks towards 0, we have before us the prospect of a considerable and sustained further increase in funding for health and social care over the next few years. 

The west of Dorset will enter this new period in good shape and will therefore be able to use the additional funding for the improvement of services rather than merely plugging holes in a leaking ship.