Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Newspaper column - 7 March 2018 - More chaos at County Hall

It’s a week since Cornwall was hit by Storm Emma, with Mid-Cornwall seeing a lot of snow as well as dangerous conditions on the coast with flooding and extremely high winds.

I’d like to pay tribute to the hard work of the emergency services, Cormac, the Environment Agency and numerous volunteers who came together to keep our communities safe and running during this time, as well as already doing a great job with the clean-up in the aftermath.

In the midst of the blizzard conditions on Thursday night Cornwall Council sent out a bizarre email to councillors and stakeholders declaring that it had decided not to proceed with an Accountable Care System model as part of its work with Cornwall’s NHS, and apparently decided to do nothing instead.
This is a crucial decision about the future of Health and Social Care in Cornwall and the pressing need to integrate the services in order to provide a better coordinated and more efficient approach to meeting the ever-growing needs of the people of Cornwall.

This email was odd because Cornwall Council this year has dedicated considerable time and taxpayer money on holding an inquiry on whether it should proceed with a model like this, among several options, and Cornwall Council’s Liberal Democrat-led Cabinet had been due to meet on 28 March to consider a formal decision on the outcome and recommendations of the Inquiry. To make a rushed decision like this was both against the council’s own procedures, as the Cabinet had not actually met and voted one way or another, but also, to do nothing, which is what it appeared was what the council was deciding to do, was against the recommendations of both the NHS, Cornwall Council’s own Health Scrutiny Committee and the Inquiry Panel.

This was bad enough, but on Friday, the Cabinet member responsible, Cllr Rotchell sent out another press release apologising for the content and timing of the previous one, but still talking about ‘the Cabinet’s position’, this despite the Cabinet not having met yet to decide anything. A lot of people went into the weekend very confused about what Cornwall Council’s position on all of this was. Clearly ruling by press release does not seem to be working very well for the Cabinet, and events also seem to bring up the old question about who really runs Cornwall Council, the officers or the councillors.

The Conservative Group on Cornwall Council, whose Health Spokesperson, Fowey’s Andy Virr, is also the Chair of the ACS Inquiry Panel and a senior A&E Consultant at Treliske, was quick to flag up these apparent errors in procedure and put out his own firm statement against this chaotic cabinet on Friday afternoon. Cornwall Council’s Lib Dem Leader, Adam Paynter, wrote to Andy Virr on Monday saying the first press release had been ‘misinterpreted’ and that the Cabinet still did want to integrate health and social care services. Again, it is unclear how this decision has been made as the Cabinet has still yet to meet.

So, after a busy end to last week and weekend where many of us have been clearing up after the snow and storms, the situation regarding Cornwall Council and its position on health and social care integration appears to be as clear as mud. One thing is clear though, and that is that no matter how bad the weather gets, that’s nothing compared to the unique brand of chaos that seems to be the rule at County Hall right now!

If this matter was not so serious we could laugh this off as the Cornwall Council Cabinet having a bad week. However, this is one of the most important decisions facing Cornwall right now that will determine how our health and care services are run in the future. Doing nothing is not an option, however neither is making knee jerk reaction decisions or playing politics with our health and care provision. I hope now that the Cabinet at Cornwall Council will work with the NHS and other agencies to make a fully informed and carefully considered decision that is in the best interest of the people they are elected to serve.