I SHOULD not admit it but I am not always an objective reporter.

I am quite happy to report both sides of an argument but when the issue is one that affects me or my community then I don’t even think you should expect me to be.

Last week the front page of the Maryport edition of the Times & Star was a story I wrote about the closure of overnight beds at Alston, Maryport and Wigton hospitals.

As the reporter responsible for the Maryport edition of the Times & Star, guess where my allegiance lay?

I began work on the Times & Star exactly 16 years ago on Monday.

When I came for an interview with then editor Terry Kirton he asked me what I would do if local hospital services were under threat.

I almost laughed. I had just finished campaiging in my town, Balclutha, in New Zealand to save hospital services there.

Our campaign differed by one word from the Maryport campaign that has been waging for the past couple of years.

Our campaign was SOS – Save Our Surgeons. The Maryport campaign was SOB – Save Our Beds.

The end result was exactly the same, however – a wholehearted community campaign to stop the downgrading of health services.

Within a short time I found I was facing a similar campaign here as attempts were made to close cottage hospitals in the area.

A fantastic campaign was fought and won with the help of then Workington MP Tony Cunningham.

Not only were the community hospitals saved and Workington and Cockermouth rebuilt, but the Closer to Home programme was trialed in Maryport.

The basic premise – and apologies if I am over-simplifying it – was that funding would be given to the Maryport GPs who would run everything.

It worked. It was feted in Parliament when all sorts of pilots seemed to start here. And then it failed!

Claire Molloy, ex-chief executive of the Cumbria NHS Partnership Trust admitted at several public meetings in the past year that the only reason the Closer to Home project had not worked was that it had been given insufficient backing from the partnership.

To get back to my point: My newspaper in New Zealand failed in its campaign to Save Our Surgeons. The large Balclutha hospital was closed and replaced with a seriously cut-down version.

We were luckier than Maryport in that there were still inpatient overnight beds but a lot fewer services than previously.

That was in the late 90s.

I returned to Balclutha at Christmas time and visited the “new” hospital.

They have had to extend it. A number of new services have been introduced – enough to excite any nurses wanting a challenge. There are medical, maternity and palliative care wards and minor surgery once a week.

The hospital has its own medical officer but the local GPs are housed in the same building and play a major part in caring for patients.

It is almost like...Why!

It is almost like Closer to Home which was the baby thrown out with the bathwater as the NHS did exactly what health services in New Zealand did – offer the smallest
hospitals as cannon-fodder to be sacrificed for the larger institutions.

The overnight beds will start being removed next week. Thousands will be spent on upgrading Keswick and Cockermouth where alterations are needed to add the beds that are being removed elsewhere.

The Maryport community has put up a magnificent battle, but a battle that has been lost.

The irony is, however, that if the New World can teach us anything, it can teach us that decisions being made today will be regretted tomorrow.

Then we can say: “I told you so!” But I wish it didn’t have to come to that.