Stop the closure of Calderstones hospital!

Save the NHS

Stop the closure of Calderstones hospital!

Dave Beale

On Saturday 12th December, workers and trade unions at Lancashire’s Calderstones hospital organised an impressive rally in support of the NHS and to oppose the hospital’s closure.

In spite of torrential rain, there was tremendous support from hospital workers, Unison, Unite, GMB and Blackburn Trades Union Council, as well as many in the local community and other workers. Following the rally, led by a piper they marched with banners and placards through the village of Whalley, where the hospital is located.

Calderstones’ proposed closure is part of a three-year government national plan to increase so-called ‘care in the community’. It will mean 223 adults – many with severe learning disabilities, and 95% of whom have been detained under the Mental Health Act – will be pushed out into other, woefully under-funded care. The quality of this care will be completely inadequate and will probably be for just a few hours a day instead of the 24-hour, seven days a week that most of these adults need.

The Unison branch secretary said:

“Service users who are under a forensic mental health section will be difficult to find adequate community care for. In addition, there are service users who, at any time post discharge, end up back through the criminal justice system or living on the streets.

“Service users under a forensic section have a range of offending behaviours including murder, manslaughter, rape and sexual offences, committed against adults or children. Moving these individuals into the community could have devastating consequences.”

As he explained: “The work is challenging and staff regularly are required to deal with physical violence, self-harm and suicide risks.”

If it wasn’t for Calderstones – the only specialist NHS hospital of its kind in the country – many of these adults would, quite wrongly, end up in prison. Over 1,000 full-time equivalent jobs at Calderstones are also under threat!

The case of the privately-run Winterbourne View hospital in Gloucestershire – now closed – is being used very cynically by the government and its allies to push for closure of Calderstones.

At Winterbourne View, patients suffered appalling treatment, with some staff going to prison as a result. But there is absolutely no justified comparison here with Calderstones. As the Unison branch secretary states, Calderstones is entirely different and is a high quality, NHS hospital: “The private owners of Winterbourne View were condemned by a judge for running it ‘with a view to profit and with a scandalous lack of regard to the interests of its residents and staff’.”

The truth is also that by closing Calderstones, some of the poorly funded ‘care in the community’ provision for the 200 adults will probably be through privately-owned care companies – and the risk of another Winterbourne View disaster could actually increase!

The planned closure of Calderstones is a brutal, cost-cutting initiative, with total disregard for the adults in its care, the consequences for the community or for the workforce. The government’s plan for Calderstones epitomises its war on the NHS.

As one of the staff said: “We all know about the government’s quite disgraceful treatment of vulnerable old people. It now wants to do the same to all of the most vulnerable sections of the community, including here at Calderstones.” The campaign to stop its closure deserves the fullest possible support.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 16 December 2015 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.