Published 14/02/2024

Twenty-one years ago, some twenty thousand people took to the streets of Penzance to campaign for the future of West Cornwall Hospital.  It was an historic and unforgettable day.  Little did the community realise then that, here in 2023, the service provision of our hospital would be less certain than ever. 

The outpatient new build, much talked about last year, has been put on hold and many wonder if it will ever happen.  Whilst there were some concerns about the architectural style of the proposed building, the community saw this as an opportunity to enhance healthcare provision locally.  The halting of the project leaves our existing outpatient department in a poor state, limiting the services which can be offered locally, and calling into question what we shall lose next. 

We have certainly witnessed the loss of a number of outpatient clinics and treatments (cardiology and audiology to name but two) at West Cornwall Hospital.  No-one seems able to give us any detail, and we wonder who decided this – is it because consultants would rather not travel to Penzance?  Patients often have to travel to Truro, Falmouth, Bodmin etc for appointments which would previously have been in Penzance. This of course makes a nonsense of our new Integrated Care System’s stated aim: “We want to ensure that providing place-based care is at the heart of everything we do.  This means delivering services closest to where people live and involving communities in making the decisions which will affect them.”

As for in-patient care, nationally the public has been bombarded with messages about staying out of hospital, being discharged at the earliest opportunity, hospital being a dangerous place, and so on.

However, being admitted to hospital is absolutely necessary for many people, for assessment as well as treatment and rehabilitation.  Can anyone tell us what role West Cornwall Hospital is to play in this, whether as an acute facility to decamp patients from Treliske, or as a community hospital for local frail and elderly patients?  It would be good to know the answer to that. 

Finally, many in the community have been appalled at the overnight closure of the Urgent Treatment Centre at the hospital.  This was meant to be a short-term temporary measure, but has now stretched for several months and the latest news is that it will go on at least until the end of April.  Overnight closure leaves vulnerable people at risk in an emergency – a nasty burn or accident, a severe asthma attack, a debilitating condition which suddenly worsens, and so the list goes on.  These things don’t always happen in the daytime.  We all know that West Cornwall Hospital isn’t the place for major emergencies, but neither is Treliske the place for many other emergencies either. 

Perhaps worst of all, this community hears very little from the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, which is responsible for West Cornwall Hospital.  The people of West Cornwall care passionately about its hospital, want to support it, long to know more about its plans, and fervently hope that it will be there for them when they need it.  We urge those making the decisions to communicate with us, to remember that this community deserves to have services delivered closest to where we live, and to be involved in the decisions about how that will be delivered. 

None of this is a criticism of the staff at West Cornwall Hospital. Everyone who has need of their expertise knows how wonderful they are; it’s just a shame and a worry for all of us that they have to work with such uncertainty. Meanwhile, do contact West Cornwall HealthWatch if you would like to join us in campaigning on these issues.  We have been working for West Cornwall for twenty-six years, and don’t intend to give up yet!