Last night the Health and Social Care Panel, one of Ealing Council’s scrutiny panels, heard John Bercow, Tory MP for Buckingham tear into Andrew Wray the Chief Exec of the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust. Bercow was pretty full-on, calling Wray “arrogant, incompetent and insensitive”. It was a very parliamentary style of attack. The Princes Room of the Town Hall with its peeling paint and strip lights did not quite provide a setting as grand as Bercow’s rhetoric.
The serious point of the evening was the closure by the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust of the Nuffield Speech and Language Unit which is effectively a day hospital run by the trust. It is in effect a nursery school too, where a small number of children with profound speech and language problems get intense therapy three times a day.
Ealing PCT and our council officers, and others like them across London who represent the potential users of the unit, subscribe to the “national strategy” which is that specialist units are anathema. The Royal Free is in a bind as they have to take the risk of a shortfall in pupils which forces them to subsidise the few kids who are enrolled at the Nuffield specialist unit.
We heard heartfelt testimony from parents and staff and the reason that Bercow was weighing in was that he has a young son, Oliver, who is a potential candidate.
It was clear to the panel that the consultation on possible closure by the Royal Free has been badly handled and should stop. We would like to see the threat of closure lifted for a year to give the parents and supporters some time to promote the institution. When consultation restarts it needs to consider closure against the idea of re-marketing the whole Nuffield concept.
If the Nuffield is to swim against the tide of inclusion orthodoxy then everyone associated with it needs to band together to ensure that a flow of candidates comes forward. They should not expect some Trust comms department to do this for them. They need to get out and do it for themselves and other like them. We can only afford diversity within public services if the public take some ownership for themselves.