Held in the Trust’s imposing Wolfson Theatre, the Right Care, Right Here regeneration work stream event proved to be a most engaging and energetic morning, attracting a wide range of vested interests and representation.
Intended to use the commissioning and building of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital as a catalyst for local and regional regeneration, the initiative looks to develop workforce and community links which will see the Hospital deliver truly integrated healthcare.
Employment and housing are key to the aim of delivering healthcare by the community, for the community. A workforce drawn from the local area enables the Hospital to meet its core care provision, as required and appropriate. They will also be able to maintain a proportional work/life balance by reducing travel times.
Associate Director of Education, Learning & Development for the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, Jim Pollitt, gave a compelling presentation on the need to develop a sustainable workforce for the Midland Met Hospital and the various employment schemes that might be utilised - apprenticeships and blended learning options being just two.
He also looked at the value of ‘Live & Work Schemes’; how the future workforce can be encouraged to choose the Midland Met as the place where they will acquire professional and life skills.
An update on housing plans for the Smethwick and Ladywood area was given by Jacob Bonehill of Birmingham City Council. He emphasized the large investment being made into housing stock in the neighbourhood around the hospital.
There are more than 6,000 new homes planned, with parallel investment in retail and office space and employment - notwithstanding standalone initiatives such as the Edgbaston Reservoir plan and the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. All of this is underpinned by extensive public/private sector collaboration which seeks to make the footprint of the Hospital and its adjacent environs of Ladywood and Smethwick, a great place to live and work.
The development of the transport infrastructure by which we move from work to home and back, through which we shop, conduct leisure activities, socialise and more, was addressed by Yvonne Gilligan of Sustrans. Yvonne’s overview on the need to ensure investment in cycle paths, reliable bus transport and car share schemes was fascinating and echoed Conrad Parkes’ clear message, that we have an opportunity here to make a real difference.
In an area where deprivation is higher than average and 28.3% of children live in poverty, we have an unrivalled chance to progress a regeneration agenda that capitalises upon investment in the Midland Met Hospital, whilst realising commensurate benefits in respect of enhanced healthy lifestyles for local people and an increase in economic wellbeing, as a result of locally employed NHS staff contributing to the adjacent micro-economy.
Paul Southon’s analysis of how we ensure positive approaches to healthy eating was especially illuminating – the use of the Hospital campus for world food fairs and farmers’ markets being both inspired and telling. Stimulating awareness and debate on food, food production and the associated small scale enterprise would reinforce current SWBH Trust priorities around tackling the public health pressure of high levels of adult obesity and diabetes.
A clear theme emerging from the delegates was that of community – of the need to engage, work with, resource and support local people so that they can make informed decisions about their own lifestyles and healthcare. The value added to this engagement by the voluntary sector was highlighted by Tracey O’Brien of the Birmingham Voluntary Sector Council (BVSC), who noted that at a time of diminishing state investment and significant local cuts, the third sector’s role was even more important.
Yet, for a sector that has arisen because, it could be argued, central government and business have failed, just 60% of BVSC’s members have paid staff. In addition, over half of the members of the BVSC have reported an increase in demand for their services but, as a result of funding pressures, 53% are not confident of surviving the next 5 years.
This is clearly worrying and a challenge that needs addressing by the Right Care, Right Here partnership. Indeed, is there an opportunity here to develop a new concordat with the voluntary sector? One that would see the Midland Met commission or buy in services from local third sector providers?
All of which would, in turn, ensure the local health economy is person-centred, user-led and that, ultimately, community and charitable organisations remain financially solvent. In essence, we’d be using the platform of the Midland Met to sustain vital and necessary voluntary sector provision.
An open session at the end of the event saw delegates further consider a number of pressing issues. Transport is clearly an important consideration – and always be – and the need for the Right Care, Right Here consortium to continue to monitor the development of the Hospital’s transport infrastructure was cited.
Looking forward, there are immense opportunities but also challenges. Maximising the potential of the Midland Met will require careful co-ordination and true collaboration as, more than just healthcare, it will be procuring local goods, and providing a hub for sport and leisure activity, a housing association and more. Careful planning will need to be the order of the day.