Friday, December 8, 2023

That was the week…1988

By Myles Cook

HERE IS the latest in our series of features looking back at some of the news items to be found in the Thurrock Gazette archives from 25 years ago.

Attack on Ward Closure

John Hammond, secretary of the Thurrock Hospital Association, branded the closure of an old folks’ ward in Thurrock Hospital as “disgusting” in a letter attacking the health chiefs on the Thurrock and Basildon Health Authority.

In the letter, Mr Hammond stated that: “We wish to register our disgust at the way your authority handled the closure of Freeman Ward.”

Mr Hammond condemned the authority for giving “insufficient consideration” to the twelve patients on the ward at the time of the closure, many of whom viewed the ward as their home. A similar lack of consideration was shown to the old ladies of Patience Ward who had to be moved from their ward to accommodate the displaced gentlemen and to the staff who were looking after the displaced patients, according to the letter. Two members of staff immediately resigned in protest.

The new Patience Ward design, with a male section at one end and a female section at the other, was causing the patients of both genders an “uncomfortable existence” despite the efforts of the remaining staff.

The letter continued: “We are well aware of the principle of mixed wards these days but here we are dealing with people of the old school, the old way of life and thinking, people in their 80s and 90s.

“Some consideration must be given to this and their feelings if we are to treat them as human beings.”

Mr Hammond’s letter included suggestions for savings to allow Freeman Ward to reopen such as cutting the increased administrative posts created over the previous two years and cutting the budget for courses for maintenance staff that already had a lifetime of experience. He also urged the health chiefs to “admit you made a mistake”.

The letter concluded: “Get Freeman Ward back into operation fast, or are you going to let it be turned into the car park your administrators are so keen to do and want for their cars.”

Richard Taylor, manager of the health authority, responded: “I am very sad that Mr Hammond and the association feel the way they do.

“I would be very surprised if staff involved had not spent a lot of time talking to men and women on both wards about the changes.”

Mr Taylor stated that “we have done everything to reassure” affected patients and that the authority had removed some administrative posts and re-appointed others to keep management costs within the old limits.

He continued: “It is important people keep up to date with changing methods, because technology is changing all the time.”

Dr Michael Health, unit general manager and district medical officer, refuted allegations of insufficient consideration being given towards the affected patients.

“The closure of Freeman Ward does represent a cut, but is the result of a lack of money to sustain services.

“We are well aware it is a cut and deeply regret the need for it. But we have found the letter rather upsetting.”

Dr Heath explained that “a lot of time” was spent in explaining the changes to both patients and their relatives and that “endless time was spent taking their wishes into account”.

He confirmed that two nurses had left as a result of the changes and that the authority profoundly regretted their decision, concluding: “We have looked elsewhere for fat to cut but there isn’t any. We are also upset at the suggestion we plan to knock down Freeman Ward and turn it into a car park. This is categorically untrue.”

Hostel Plan to Aid the Homeless

A major crisis with homelessness was brewing in the borough due to the lack of houses available to Thurrock Council because of a Government clampdown on council house building.

Thurrock’s Housing committee approved a scheme to spend £72,000 to convert a property in Humber Avenue, South Ockendon, into a short stay hostel as a measure to counter the problem. If the Policy and Resources committee backed the plan, it would amount to a saving of £30,000 a year then being spent on bed and breakfast accommodation in Southend.

Senan Walsh, housing manager, told the council that they could deal with homelessness as the level had remained constant in recent years, adding: “But properties available to let have been reducing and now more and more people are having to temporarily be housed in hostels or bed and breakfast places.”

“We are struggling to move people into more permanent housing and a reasonable time now is about six weeks. But we don’t put them in a temporary place and forget about them.”

Cllr George Arnold urged the council to go ahead with the scheme and two other prospective schemes, adding that: “It is very sad we are not in a position to house the homeless because of Government policies.”

Cllr Dave Hunt stated that central Government had taken away the council’s ability to control its own housing situation but that they still had an obligation to find accommodation for the homeless.

“The stress of being homeless is bad enough, but the stress of being crammed into small accommodation for any length of time is even worse.”
ME Victims Welcome Recognition

The Stanford-le-Hope ME Association hailed a Private Members’ Bill, put forward by Scottish MP Jimmy Hood, as a major breakthrough in the ten year battle to gain recognition for the 100,000 British victims of the post-viral disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

Peter Blackman, association chairman, said: “We feel that this is a very significant step in improving public awareness of ME.

“This Bill would require the Government to take an interest in the problems of ME sufferers. There is an urgent need to step up medical research into the causes and cures.”

The disease, which leaves its victims with long bouts of extreme tiredness, weeping fits, muscle pains, double vision, anxiety, loss of concentration and many other mental and physical symptoms, had only recently been fully recognised by the NHS.

The Bill would result in an annual report being given to Parliament by the Secretary of State on progress in research and treatments, if it became law.

Teacher to Stand for Election

Diana Hale, Principal of Grays Adult Education Centre, was selected by Grays North Labour Party, to stand in the Borough elections on May 5th for the first time.
She hoped to appeal to voters who sought to improve themselves through education and home-ownership and those who had seen the manufacturing industry in Thurrock decline.

A life-long Labour supporter, she has strong links with working people being only a generation away from the Depression of the 1930s.

She stated: “My mother’s stories of Salford and the ignominy of means testing when my father was out of work have left an indelible mark.

“I’m sorry working people’s memories are so short. I was born in 1947, so there were workhouses in my lifetime and that only feels like yesterday.”

Colts Cup Goes To Thurrock

Thurrock Colts stormed to victory for the first time in the Essex Colts Cup in Harlow following the decision to run a kickable penalty.

Matthew Diprose took two well-taken penalties to start the Tees off in good form against the Chingford Colts.

Following a tightly fought match, the decider came as the Tees had Chingford back on their own line and had won a penalty for offside. Deciding against kicking, Richie Martin crashed over the line for the try.

The final score was Thurrock Colts 20 to the Chingford Colts 13.

In Other News…

Sick patients were being sent home from Orsett Hospital before they were well enough to make room for more urgent cases.

Thurrock housing officers were praised for reducing the number of empty properties in the borough to a level making it one of the best in the country.

The nursing crisis in Orsett and Basildon Hospitals continued with 18 trained nurses leaving the area in January 1988 and only 14 joining.


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