"There is something uniquely special about this place. It needs to be preserved. Let's not look back in a few years' time and wish we'd done more to save the Min."

(Debbie Cook, Director of NASS)

THE MIN: Developments, June 2016 

Yesterday I attended the AGM of the Friends of the RNHRD at The Min. Can I encourage all members of this group to support their work and become Friends?

As part of the afternoon there were two presentations. One was by Dr John Pauling, whose research into the rare but dreadful condition Systemic Sclerosis, which claimed a dear friend of mine some years ago, now gives hope at least of early diagnosis. The other was by two executive directors of the RUH, Joss Foster, Commercial Director and Howard Jones, Estates.

These two both spoke with some sympathy with and understanding of patients who love The Min. They confirmed that it will be sold in two years' time but could not say to whom and for what purpose, except that the NHS will require value for money, which implies highest bidder. However, Bath & North East Somerset Council, the city’s MP, Ben Howlett and other Bath organisations have the fate of The Min very much in mind; UNESCO too are aware and have a watching brief. Those of us who care about the heritage The Min represents, and all it has brought for us, must watch this development and also make our views plain to those who have the power to influence.

Having had assurances about the new plans, but no real evidence and some ducking of issues last September when I last met with Brian Stables and James Scott, I have to report that the presentation we saw yesterday was far and away different from and much more positive in comparison with the previous brief and really rather negative sketches, which were our only concrete evidence to go on at the time. For the first time I have to report that the proposed plans for the “RNHRD and Therapies Centre” (and that naming itself is a significant and very welcome change) began to show that James Scott's parting shot to me last September – “Trust us, George" – was not made in vain.

Firstly, the placing of the new building immediately to the left of the main entrance as you look at it, and occupying the whole of the space down to the present small car park entrance, is significantly and positively different from the previous tucked away plan. The building is far larger than previously predicted on the earlier and sketchier plans and the drawings now show the RNHRD name featured above the building in large letters. Rheumatology will be the most significant part of the building and patients will still have the advantage of associated X-ray facilities within the same building. I am assuming that the same will also apply to other tests like blood and BP.

Judging by the incomplete drawings and plans, the look and feel of the interior has been given some very careful thought and will reflect in various ways the proud history of The Min. I am, though, personally concerned that the acronym RNHRD is not anywhere near as well-known in Bath as the fond nickname The Min, and this needs consideration.

We did not see plans for treatment rooms etc. but we were shown a drawing of a very large, if not huge, hydrotherapy pool. This was maybe the most impressive part of a very sympathetic presentation. There has always been a modest hydrotherapy pool at the RUH for use by non-rheumatology patients, and those patients’ requirements will still need to be accounted for. Car parking is to be expanded, but no hint of it being free however.

In-patients will be cared for in other parts of the hospital, which is the main difference and disappointment since the previous 1970s’ plans included some in-patient beds. In the light of the pressure on hospital beds in general, I hope that the new rehabilitation identity, rather than swift curative treatment The Min brings with it, will also be applied to such in-patients.

The easy connection between those in-patients and the new centre then is going to be vital so that physio and hydrotherapies remain as regularly accessible as they currently are. In-patient need has reduced dramatically in the treatment of rheumatology patients over the years and accounted largely for the loss of funding of The Min. We will, however, need to maintain a watching brief for all in-patients to ensure that the excellent quality of their rehabilitative treatment, currently so effective at The Min, is maintained.

There was no mention of physiotherapists and their close physical and practical alliance with specialist clinical practice, and this is another area we must keep under review. We patients know how vital the physios are to our well-being and treatment but they always seem to be too easily ignored in planning and presentations by hospital grandees. We must fight for their needs and our needs, including them at the forefront of thinking in this development.

Lastly, research. The good news was that the brand of the RNHRD will be maintained in research identity and proposals, which is one of the things we have been proposing. However, much will depend on the management and prioritising of research funding. The SSC project above and the impressive PSA project, both under Dr McHugh, were founded in a small specialist hospital with a historically dramatic and contemporarily hugely impressive record of successful research that directly impacts patients.

We have to maintain a watching brief that the large frogs in the small pond of The Min are not threatened by the pike or worse in the much larger RUH lake and that the atmosphere and function of a small specialist hospital should and must be maintained in significant ways in the new hospital. This is a fundamental principle which I believe that the RUH themselves will wish to embrace within the functioning of a large and successful general hospital. What the RNHRD brings to the RUH is a new, special and stronger identity, helping to strengthen its place in the future storms and occasional tidal waves of government and regional planning.

 

George Odam, June 2016