Shaftesbury Hospital’s League of Friends will be reorganised to improve efficiency, raise more funds and increase community involvement. Last night supporters backed proposed changes and heard how new mental health services will be introduced.
Julian Prichard presided over the 71st and final annual general meeting of the Westminster Memorial Hospital League of Friends at Shaftesbury Town Hall on Wednesday evening. “The League of Friends will continue. It’s just going to be a different name and a different legal construct,” explained Julian.
A special meeting saw overwhelming support to change from an Unincorporated Trust to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, or CIO. “We have added into our new constitution the long-term protection of the hospital. But otherwise, every object is the same,” explained Julian.
The League’s constitution was drafted in 1981 and was outdated. “To bring our current constitution up to scratch would have taken up a lot of costly work with solicitors. To take an off-the-shelf Charity Commission model was a cheaper and more efficient way of drawing a line under the old charity and modernising it,” said Julian.
And he says that a snappier name will be the difference most people will notice. “’The League of Friends of the Westminster Hospital Shaftesbury’ was a bit of a mouthful and caused problems when people wrote cheques, because the bank won’t take it if it is not exact. We will now simply be ‘The Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital’.”
From April, there will be a new structure and a division of duties under the new Friends body. Julian says it has been devised so longstanding volunteers can focus on the aspects of the League’s work they enjoy. “The trustee board will oversee the strategic governance and ensure compliance for the charity. We haven’t really had anybody doing that historically,” Julian explained. “If we take the existing League of Friends as it stands, that entire trustee board will move to a committee which will oversee the historic operations of The Friends. That is hospital events – they will run ‘matron’s shopping trolley’- the hospital’s needs which are brought to the table, discussed and we decide whether or not to fund them.”
The trustees of the new CIO will concentrate on governance, compliance, the long-term strategy and annual appeals. Three of the six trustees have been signed up and are based in and around our town. Julian is mindful that the hospital’s catchment area includes Mere, Sixpenny Handley and Gillingham. He hopes to find the remaining trustees from those communities. “We don’t want to be Shaftesbury-centric. When we started this process, none of the existing trustees of the League of Friends wanted to be trustees on the new CIO. We’ve looked at the new trustees and we are still looking and have been interviewing.”
Justine Elmendorff, the League trustee with responsibility for fundraising explained how difficult it had been to find volunteers. The volume of unpaid work for committee-level volunteers often exceeds ten hours each week.
Julian told Alfred that over the last six years, the League’s average annual spend on the hospital has been £60,000. Treasurer Shelley James told the meeting that legacies and wills have reduced. Julian’s solution is to meet the funding shortfall with a Friends membership drive. He aims to match the level of support given to Blandford and Sherborne Hospital’s Leagues. Their supporters offer between £30,000 and £40,000 each year.”
“I took over In November 2018 with 71 friends. We are now at 220. We have a long way to match our neighbours who both have over 1,000. We will keep recruiting. As long as people understand what the Friends are doing and how they make a difference in the hospital, I think more people will be keen to support us,” said Julian.
Those additional subs will boost funds. “If we had 1,000 people paying £5 each year, that’s a healthy number. Many people have been paying £5 a year historically and are now paying £5 a month, which helps us enormously.” Julian appealed for people to set up standing orders to support the Friends.
He also plans to reclassify some fundraising. Cash projects requiring over £50,000 will be classed as appeals. “We hope to run an appeal each year and that means we can go further afield to fundraise through grants. The long-term strategy will have to be funded by large grants,” Julian said.
The Friends’ fundraising will extend across the area served by the hospital. “It’s very much a hospital for Gillingham, Mere, Tisbury and potentially Sturminster. We’re not going to continually ask Shaftesbury for money. It has to come from around the area. Holbrook House is supporting us. They are near Wincanton. We are their joint charity of the year this year,” said Julian.
Justine has helped compile a database of 950 local businesses, which will be approached for support. “If a proportion of them are happy to donate on an annual basis that will be great,” said Julian.
Last year the League launched an £82,000 drive for two electric vehicles. The hospital healthcare team will use these for visiting discharged patients who require ongoing support to continue their recovery. The transport will collect patients from home and bring them into the hospital, freeing up the Ambulance Service. The vehicles will also collect loved ones without their own transport in the patient’s final moments of life. Around £27,000 has been raised and the first vehicle should arrive in May.
Helen Lawes has worked closely with the League during her five years as hospital matron. She addressed the meeting in her new role as North Dorset locality manager for the NHS provider, Dorset Healthcare.
“I look after all three hospitals in North Dorset, Blandford, Shaftesbury and Sherborne, the district nurses and the therapy teams. It’s working with them as team leaders, delivering services and looking at how I can deliver new services, working with the primary care nurses and ensuring that we work together cohesively,” said Helen.
Last year, the League spent around £500,000 buying number two Abbey View. Dorset Council planners have now approved the change of use of this former home. Julian says the purchase offers a different way of managing their investments and will generate £1,000 monthly rental income. It will remain the Friends’ property.
Dorset Healthcare will sign a five-year repairing lease, meaning they have to ensure maintenance. Helen announced that the rented space will be used to improve the access to adult mental health services. Steps To Wellbeing will relocate from Wincombe Business Park.
“They provide a range of services, one of which is talking therapies,” said Helen. “If somebody is suffering from anxiety, they can work through that and help them. It’s exciting because it’s an opportunity for us to work together in a cohesive way, joining up our mental health and physical services. They can be close to the hospital.”
Helen spoke about the importance of community groups working in partnership with the healthcare hub. The Royal British Legion will become an affiliate of the Friends. “It’s an association of mutual support, which means that the British Legion and the League of Friends will collude in the passing of information and helping, supporting and communicating the message to each other,” said Legion chairman Robin Miller. “It will be beneficial to the whole community.”
Robin is convinced of the value in the NHS services and the voluntary sector working together to help improve residents’ lives. “We all have a part to play and not just in social isolation but also in mental health and wellbeing and independent living. All those things are on all of our shoulders,” said Robin.
Julian had stressed that the Friends will connect with communities that value Shaftesbury’s hospital across the Wiltshire border. NHS funding is often arranged by county. That means that the Westminster Memorial won’t take in patients from the Wiltshire side of the border after the annual arrangement for two ‘winter pressure beds’ expired at the end of February. “I am working with the CCG (NHS Clinical Commissioning Group) and the GPs to try and pursue that,” said Helen.
Patients using some GP practices in nearby parts of Wiltshire can access some Shaftesbury Hospital services under a separate arrangement made by the surgeries. “If somebody rings their doctor late on a Friday afternoon and they need an appointment, if that’s not available at the GP surgery they may well be able to come to the hospital to see a clinician,” said Helen.
Julian confirmed that he is still discussing cross-border issues with regional NHS decision-makers. “Behind-the-scenes conversations are going on because it makes sense for people to stay in hospital locally. That’s part of the move from the CCG to keep their services local. The public can put the pressure on their Wiltshire GPs and say that they want to be at Shaftesbury Hospital. It’s a really good way to work from the ground up. We can work at Dorset CCG and Dorset Healthcare level,” he said.
Regional NHS management still has not confirmed that Shaftesbury Hospital’s beds are safe for the next five years. “Last July, Dorset Healthcare gave their report to the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group suggesting that the beds were kept for the short to medium term. I have been putting pressure on the CCG for an answer,” said Julian.
He, like most Shaftesbury residents, hopes that those beds will still be in place in five years. And he knows how he wants the Friends to evolve through to 2025. “I hope that we will rebrand at some point and become more professional in our marketing but again. This is all down to recruiting volunteer supporters. I hope that in five years, we will be operating quite a slick and efficient charity to the extent that we can communicate reasonably regularly with our friends and will have quite a lot of projects going on.”