NHS Forth Valley chief’s pledge on Falkirk Community Hospital

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A commitment to replace Falkirk Community Hospital with a new, fit-for-purpose building has been pledged by Cathie Cowan, chief executive of NHS Forth Valley.

After 18 months in post she wants to complete the final piece in the jigsaw of providing the communities the health board serves with facilities to give everyone the very best NHS care in the 21st century.

It’s not going to happen overnight she warned and there’s a lot of work to be carried out before the current property in Westburn Avenue is replaced, but it will happen she promises.

With her quiet determination to ensure patients receive the very best care in the correct surroundings, and the staff she leads work in a facility where they can properly look after people of all ages, you sense that the current building will make way for a far more suitable resource.

This week she put her plan to the members of the health board to look at how they take forward the proposal to replace the hospital, parts of which are 95 years old.

Prior to that meeting the chief executive said: “I’m going to share my commitment with the board about what it could look like.

“We don’t have a business case yet, but that is all part of the planning process.

“We also need to consider whether the building could be shared with partners, whether it be the council, ambulance service or third sector.

“Capital is a scarce commodity in 2019 but I’m determined that it is not going to stop us.”

She added that she would also like to see a minor injuries unit, similar to the service offered in Stirling Health & Care Village, situated on the site of its former community hospital, in any new Falkirk facility.

This in turn would help with the waiting times in Forth Valley Royal’s A&E department where more serious emergency cases could be treated.

While the people of Falkirk have access to a state-of-the art acute hospital at Forth Valley Royal in Larbert, the original healthcare strategy unveiled in 2006 was always to have three facilities in Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannan to provide people with community care closer to their homes.

To date the health board has delivered in Stirling and with the Clackmannanshire Community Health Care Centre in Alloa, but Falkirk has had to put up with a ‘make do’ set up in the former Falkirk & District Royal Infirmary building.

Initially the plan had been to sell off some of the surrounding site for housing and use the cash to build a new facility. However, the property crash saw the potential sale value plummet and the board decided to hold off on any sale, instead demolishing part of the building, including the Windsor Unit, and make some changes to incorporate community health services. This included elderly in-patient wards following the closure of the former Bonnybridge Hospital, opthalmology and dental services all being offered on the site.

Cathie added: “We will only be able to deliver the plan by going to the board and agreeing to come up with a business case in 2020 to secure capital.

“If we are committed to delivering the very best care then we need a modern facility in which to do so.”

The chief executive has already seen what the dedicated 7000-strong NHS staff in Forth Valley can deliver – even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Only a few months into the job when the ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorm struck, she saw examples in every area of healthcare of staff going above and beyond to ensure patients in hospitals and in the community received the care needed.

She said: “We had staff sleeping on the floor in part of Forth Valley Royal because they couldn’t get home, and others trudging through the snow to ensure they could treat patients.

“There was also the tremendous support from all the Serco staff, as well as GPs and staff in the community providing round-the-clock care for those in need.

“It was the health service at its best.”

During her first months in charge, Cathie made a point of getting out and speaking to as many staff as possible to hear directly from them about the health service they were working in.

She said: “I want NHS Forth Valley to be delivering the very best care with a level of compassion.

“Being chief executive is a huge privilige because you are leading this organisation with a responsiblity to spend our £600 million budget wisely and also a responsibility towards our staff to ensure the management of patient care is the very best.

“That’s what makes me turn up in the morning. It’s all about helping to make a difference for patients and staff.”

Performance has been improving in meeting targets, particularly around how quickly patients are referred, but Cathie says no-one is complacent.

“It’s important that we are the best, not only for our patients but also to demonstrate to the rest of Scotland the good practice we carry out. And staff in Forth Valley, across all levels, are doing their very best to achieve that.

“Everything we do revolves round caring for the health and welfare of staff and patients – it’s the most important thing we do and something I never forget.”