Council leader McColl advocates breast cancer screening services should go to Paisley
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council’s leader, SNP Councillor Jonathan McColl, who takes the occasional interest in health matters and has attended just 36% of meetings of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board for which he is paid, has astonishingly come out in support of the board’s Moving Forward Together Strategy, which advocates that cancer breast screening and other essential cancer services should be scrapped at Vale of Leven Hospital.
This is just weeks after he endorsed a £10,000 campaign using public money to persuade more patients to make use of the services at Vale of Leven – but only for minor injuries.
It also coincides with the launch this week of a petition on behalf of angry patients to keep the Breast Clinics at Vale of Leven and Inverclyde hospitals. Nearly 2000 people signed the petition in just 24 hours.
One woman who signed the petition said: “They want to centralise the clinic to the RAH only. Having attended the breast clinic with my mum on February 1 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I can only describe the clinic as a cattle market!
“At least 100 people squeezed in all waiting for results that could turn their world upside down.
“To close these other breast clinics would only increase this number by hundreds.
“The only thing that has gotten us all through this horrific journey so far is knowing there is a clinic locally with a team of outstanding nurses and doctors.
“Please, please sign this petition to stop the closure of the Breast Clinic at the Vale of Leven Hospital and Inverclyde Hospital.”
Brave woman – the campaign to keep screening at Vale of Leven was started by Kirsteen Gibson.
The papers for meetings of the Health Board from June 2017 reveal that Councillor McColl attended just seven out of a possible 19 meetings since the SNP took over the administration West Dunbartonshire Council last year.
These absences came during one of the most significant periods of service change that might have a profound and lasting impact on the Vale of Leven hospital.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “He even failed to attend the most recent meeting of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board on 26 June at which they approved their ‘Moving Forward Together’ programme which will change how services are delivered for local people at the Vale of Leven hospital.”
This was the meeting at which the future of cancer services, including the breast screening service, was decided.
She added: “We know that treatment for cancer can be incredibly tiring and stressful for patients. It is clear that moving services further away from patients will only add to this stress and make it more difficult for people to continue to access treatment.
“I know that the Vale of Leven hospital provides excellent care for patients who have cancer and the service allows patients to be seen in their own community without the added stress of travelling to Paisley.
“If this is the first sign of what the Health Board’s Moving Forward Together programme will involve, I struggle to see how the changes being made will benefit patients. I am clear that the health board should not proceed any further until they have had the fullest possible public consultation.”
The MSP claimed: “The Health Board has still not given the community information about what could be left at the hospital; would be delivered in the community, or accessed from a specialist centre. The health board’s Moving Forward Together programme report which was approved at the meeting provides no clear indication of what will be left at the Vale of Leven hospital after they make their changes.
“It is indefensible that our council leader, Jonathan McColl, has attended about a third of the meetings of the health board and its sub committees …
“Our community deserves to be represented when these critical decisions are being made about the future of our local services. It is time that Councillor McColl took his role more seriously. If he can’t be bothered to turn up to these meetings, he should step aside.”
Councillor McColl, who refuses to speak to The Democrat, has signed what some people see as the longest local political suicide note in the past 50 years by advocating this switch to Paisley, especially the breast cancer screening service.
He maintains that he will be seeking clarification on arrangements for those unable to drive or use public transport to get to the RAH, a long-standing issue in relation to all other services provided there.
He said he fully supports the Moving Forward Together Strategy, according to The Lennox Herald, and warned that quality of care will “suffer significantly” if the changing needs of patients and (suggested) improvements in medical practice, treatments and technologies are not responded to.
He told their reporter, Jenny Blyth: “For the first time, our health board and the senior management team are actively looking at how we can deliver the services people need across the whole of the board area, with the ‘Clyde’ part of the equation being included from the outset rather than as an afterthought.
“Some of the services we currently access locally will be delivered through hubs based outside our direct local area or delivered centrally for the whole of NHSGGC at centres of excellence such as the Beatson or Golden Jubilee. These will be the more specialist services that you access less frequently.
“The benefit we will see will be world leading specialist screening and treatment alongside new localised services delivered at our local hospital, health centres and even in our own homes.”
Cllr McColl added: “This is a strategy that will take years to fully develop and implement, but if we don’t react to the changing needs of patients and improvements in medical practice, treatments and technologies, there will be no innovation and quality of care will suffer significantly.”
The SNP council leader also hit out at Dumbarton’s Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, accusing her of “spin”.
He said: “This change in service delivery is one small part of the wider plan, and while Ms Baillie will spin it to suit her personal narrative, I’m certain that the communities of West Dunbartonshire know better than to trust the MSP who’s party tried so hard to close our hospital not so long ago.”
Reaction to the petition against the breast clinic closure proposal has been swift and condemnatory.
Lynsey McDaid posted on the Facebook campaign page, which was started by Kirsten Gibson: “My friend’s Mum is currently going through treatment and needs these resources closer to home not added stress to travel for treatment.”
And Kirsty Campbell added: “Having family with the BRCA 2 [these] gene breast clinics are vital, specially one in our own local hospital!”