Campaigners from the Save the RBH Hydrotherapy Pool Campaign have warmly welcomed today's announcement from the hospital Chief Executive Steve McManus that plans to close the pool had been abandoned and that the hospital trust is "committed to the continuation of hydrotherapy provision, whether this is on the Royal Berkshire Hospital site or through alternative facilities off the site".
This is a remarkable turnaround from the situation at the start of the year when Royal Berkshire Hospital managers announced, without any consultation with doctors, nurses, patients groups or even the hospital's own governors, that the pool was to close at the end of March.
A campaign group was quickly formed comprising representatives of the main patient groups and charities concerned with the medical conditions alleviated by hydrotherapy treatment. An online petition was launched and together with signatures collected in Reading town centre and elsewhere over 3000 people indicated their opposition to the planned closure of the pool. The campaign, which has received strong support from Reading's two MPs and local Councillors, called on the new RBH Chief Executive to reverse the decision of the previous management regime
A comprehensive dossier was published by the campaigners in January demolishing the case for closure. The dossier ‘Why the RBH should keep the hydrotherapy pool open – the case against closure’ can be found here.
The dossier was publicly endorsed by physiotherapists, local GPs, and Graeme Hoskin – Reading’s Lead Councillor for Health and Well Being who secured the unanimous support of all parties on Reading Borough Council for a motion opposing the closure. Councillors in Wokingham, lead by RBH governor Richard Dolinski were similarly supportive.
The campaign, which was coordinated by former Reading West MP Martin Salter - now patron of the MS Therapy Centre - was supported by Arthritis Matters, REACH, MS Society, Berks DPAC, Berkshire MS Therapy Centre, Peapods, Reading Fibromyalgia Support Group, Parkinson’s Society and Reading Families Forum.
Reading West MP Alok Sharma was instrumental in the campaign from the start and chaired the stakeholder group which has been in negotiations with the RBH management over the last two months.
Martin Salter said:
'It would be churlish not to thank Steve McManus for listening to patients groups and campaigners and to find a way to retain hydrotherapy services for for people with disabilities, suffers of chronic pain conditions and those recovering from strokes and other medical symptoms. However, this is a decision that should never have been made in the first place and it is something which caused great upset and distress to people who have more than enough problems to contend with. It was a stupid and callous decision based on zero evidence, a flawed process and on a case shot so full of holes that it simply could not be justified. Getting rid of hydrotherapy would have cost the RBH far more than it would ever have saved once patients relapsed and started needing acute beds. Thankfully, we had the steadfast support of Alok Sharma MP and our local councillors throughout the campaign and we are grateful to them for remaining rock solid throughout."
Alice Carter from Peapods - a charity supporting families of physically disabled children - added:
"Parents of disabled children will be hugely relieved by this news. Hydrotherapy is a vital part of the physiotherapy which their children receive at the RBH to help them learn to walk or stop those with a degenerative condition losing mobility altogether. We know how valuable this treatment is, and how it saves the NHS money in the medium and long term, and we are confused about why the closure was ever proposed, to the horror of families and clinicians."