Hyrdrotherapy Pool Closure

9th January 2017

Reading West MP Alok Sharma has written to the new Chief Executive of the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Steve McManus, asking him to reconsider plans to close the hydrotherapy pool at the Royal Berkshire hospital at the end of March 2017.

Over the past few weeks Alok has been approached by a large number of constituents, users of the pool and patient and charity groups, who are opposed to the closure. Alok met with the Acting Chief Executive Mary Sherry in December and is now requesting an urgent meeting with Mr McManus to discuss this matter further. Alok will be inviting representatives from interested patient and charity groups to join him when meeting with Mr McManus.

Alok said: "It is clear to me that the hospital needs to reconsider its decision to close this vital facility which provides real benefits for patients across the local area. I want the new Chief Executive to have a look at this decision with a fresh pair of eyes and I am looking forward to meeting him, together with patient and charity groups, so he understands directly from the community he hopes to serve just how important this facility is."

Alok's letter to the new Chief Executive, Steve McManus, is set out below:

"Dear Mr McManus,

Further to my letter of 14 October 2016, I am writing to welcome you to your new role as Chief Executive of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust (the "Trust"), now that you have formally started.

I would value a discussion with you on a number of issues, but in the short term would appreciate an urgent meeting to specifically discuss the planned closure of the hydrotherapy pool at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Just before Christmas I met with your colleague, Mary Sherry, to gain a fuller understanding of the decision process relating to the planned closure and conveyed to her the strength of feeling from within the community opposing the closure decision.

As you may well be aware, it is not just individuals, but a whole range of medical charities that have written to the Royal Berkshire Hospital and to me, expressing their alarm at the planned closure. These organisations include the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Arthritis Matters, REACH Wokingham, Reading Families' Forum, and the Reading Fibromyalgia Support Group.

In the Trust's statement announcing the planned closure of the hydrotherapy pool the decision was presented as a financial imperative. However, during my meeting with Ms Sherry it was made clear that the decision was "not just about the money", but was primarily about the use of space for clinical priorities.

Ms Sherry and her colleague at the meeting were also keen to point out that hydrotherapy benefits only a very small percentage of patients requiring physiotherapy and questioned the "clinical effectiveness" of the treatment offered. The original email I received, on 23 November, from Stevie Pattison-Dick about the closure decision also noted that hydrotherapy treatment provides "very little proven benefit to patients". Clearly, very many users and the organisations listed above, disagree vehemently with this assertion. Additionally, your hospital's own website continues to state:

"Hydrotherapy can help with;

*relief of pain and muscle spasm
*increasing range of movement
*improving both strength and control of muscles.

It is very good for helping to encourage weight-bearing, especially where you may be finding land-based exercises very difficult."

If it really is true that hydrotherapy is an ineffective treatment, a statement which I believe lacks credibility, the Trust needs to explain why it has operated this facility for so many years!

Very many people clearly believe that there is a medical benefit to hydrotherapy, including the Trust itself if it stands by the commentary on its own website, and therefore the closure of the pool will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on those who use it currently, which will lead to a deterioration of their conditions. This will require them to undertake other treatments at an additional cost to the NHS, which I am sure neither they, you nor I would want to see happen.

During my meeting with Ms Sherry I was informed that the decision to close the pool was made by senior management alone and was not referred to the Board of Directors, as only financial decisions with a monetary value above £750,000 are referred to the Board. I believe the decision not to refer this matter to the Board was a misjudgement. In arriving at the monetary impact of the proposed closure all financial components should have been taken into account, including the cost of decommissioning the pool, removal of all pumping and other equipment and the cost of re-provisioning the space for its new use. It was clear at the meeting I held with Ms Sherry that the Trust currently has no definitive idea about the costs of decommissioning and re-provisioning. It amazes me that a decision has been taken to close the pool, the decision has been presented in public as a financially motivated move and yet basic financial components relating to the decision are missing.

Subsequent to our meeting Ms Sherry wrote to me on 4 January confirming that the Trust is unable to provide any detailed costings for the removal of the hydrotherapy pool, its associated pumps and water purification units and other ancillary equipment.

It was also noted during my meeting with Ms Sherry that the hydrotherapy pool is under-used. However, it is my understanding that the pool was unavailable for use for weeks at a time over the past year, and there is clearly a case to be made that usage could be increased if the facility was better advertised among physiotherapists and patients.

I appreciate that you will need to review all the relevant information regarding this decision. However, in view of the above points, I would be grateful for an opportunity to meet with you this month, along with representatives from interested patient and charity groups, to discuss this matter further. Given the level of public interest that surrounds this matter, I am copying this letter to all those who have written to me about the hydrotherapy pool and I am also putting a copy of this letter in the public domain.

My office will be in touch with you to arrange a convenient time to meet and I look forward to meeting with you shortly.

Yours sincerely,

Alok Sharma MP"