On Friday 20 January, Reading West MP Alok Sharma joined forces with his predecessor Martin Salter, who is Patron of the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre, and other campaigners fighting to save the hydrotherapy pool at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, at a meeting with new hospital Chief Executive Steve McManus.
The delegation, which was organised by Alok, included Julie Monahan, REACH Wokingham; Alice Gostomski, Reading Fibromyalgia Group; Merry Cross, Berks DPAC; Kim Seabrook and Deborah Catherall, Arthritis Matters; Ramona Bridgman, Reading Families Forum; and Angie Burnish, Peapods.
The campaigners explained the need for this vital hydrotherapy service to continue citing many individual cases where hydrotherapy had brought clear clinical benefits for patients. Campaigners also noted that other hospitals are running hydrotherapy pools, making a surplus rather than a loss, and that working together with the hospital it should be possible to achieve the same for the Reading pool.
Campaigners noted that the hydrotherapy pool at RBH is significantly under-utilised and yet there is significant latent demand for this service from all age groups of the population.
Mr McManus acknowledged that many patients do derive a benefit from using the hydrotherapy pool and noted that he understood why there was a feeling that the hospital had not communicated clearly enough the rationale for the planned closure. Mr McManus also apologised to the campaigners on behalf of the hospital for statements made by hospital representatives, before he commenced as the Chief Executive, which had belittled the benefits of using hydrotherapy.
The meeting agreed that the campaign group would be closely involved in the consultation process, which will take place to review the decision to close the pool and Alok Sharma MP was nominated to chair the Stakeholder Group, which will meet regularly with hospital representatives during the consultation process.
Alok Sharma MP said: "I want to thank Steve McManus for a very constructive meeting and the campaign groups look forward to working with the hospital to achieve a reversal of the decision to close the hydrotherapy pool. All the campaigners were absolutely magnificent in clearly setting out the case for keeping the pool open and I want to pay particular tribute to my predecessor Martin Salter for coordinating the campaign group and bringing his wealth of experience to the campaign."
Martin Salter said: "It was refreshing to hear the new RBH boss readily acknowledge the mistakes of the recent past and pledge to work with us on looking at how we can deliver an effective hydrotherapy service in the Reading area. I’m pleased that Alok , as our local MP, is prepared to remain involved in what is now a Hydrotherapy Stakeholder Group and will be seeing this one through."
Ramona Bridgman of Reading Families Forum said: "The hospital hydrotherapy pool is the only such pool available to severely disabled children under five years old and for those children recovering from significant operations. They need the warmth and support of the water in order to be able to relax their muscles sufficiently to exercise their limbs. Without hydrotherapy, these children will not be able to maintain or build their mobility and their overall health with deteriorate significantly. There are also many physically disabled children over five at mainstream schools in Reading and at one of the nearby special schools who cannot access any hydrotherapy and are really suffering as a result. It is vital that hydrotherapy is made available to them."
Kim Seabrook of Arthritis Matters said: “Its most beneficial for the members of Arthritis Matters or anyone with mobility problems to have access to hydro when needed as the conditions can be unpredictable to manage. Because of pain and stiffness in muscles and joints the warm of the hydro pool can relax the muscle and so enables people to manage to keep being independent as the exercise in pool strengthens muscles and helps with balance and confidence leading to less falls and Injuries.”
Julie Monahan of REACH Wokingham said: “My daughter used this hydrotherapy pool when she was young and gained great benefit from it. The way she moved in the water was completely different: on dry land her legs were stiff and barely moved, in the hydro pool they relaxed enabling her to kick. It was like watching a different child. The warm water helped her muscles to relax enabling them to move and stretch far more than on dry land, helping her to maintain her range of movement for as long as possible. Over time tight muscles can affect the joints and lead to much pain and the need for surgery to correct deformities. Obviously prevention is better than cure for the patient and is certainly more cost effective. Many REACH families have benefitted from the use of this pool over the years and it is important that future children will also be able to benefit from this facility.