MP Paul Bristow once said he “won’t leave a stone unturned to ensure we get a hydrotherapy pool facility in our city,” which may seem ironic given that the former St George’s hydrotherapy pool has been turned into a massive heap of rubble.
When Peterborough City Council pulled the plug on the pool last year, it offered a glimmer of hope of a replacement – paid for by private enterprise – but that too had the plug pulled on it in June this year.
It could be argued, of course, that council taxpayers cannot be accepted to pay for such services in these straitened times.
A new report this week shows the financial battle still ahead for the city council as it was warned of a projected budget gap of £5m next year, doubling to £10m the year after.
It is a gloomy picture.
The council’s Lib Dem leader Christian Hogg remains determined that while St George’s may be out of sight it is far from out of his mind.
“I suspect the Conservative administration is just hoping that people will just give up and move on,” he said.
“However, the tenacity and determination of the St George’s Hydrotherapy Users Group is unlikely to fade away and they have woefully been misjudged by the administration.”
Dr Shabina Asad Qayyum is a Labour city councillor, equally committed to providing a hydrotherapy pool for the city.
“I was introduced to St. George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool even before I became a councillor,” she says.
Last year she reminded residents of the benefits of such a pool. She pointed out such pools:
-Treats an array of chronic pain to ease conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
-Helps with physiological rehabilitation of those that are less able bodied as a result of strokes, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis and Motor neurone Disease.
– Helps chemo patients after their treatment to ease muscular tension and ease.
– Helps with boosting circulation, and eases stress and anxiety.
She added that closure of St George’s hydrotherapy pool “will have a knock-on effect of burdening the already buckling NHS, burdening social care and the input needed to rehabilitate the less mobile, frail, and vulnerable population.
“In the long term, the economic implications will be disastrous for social care and the local authority.”
St George’s Hydrotherapy Users group pointed out that that the pool had benefited children and adults with a wide range of disabilities or long-term health conditions.
“It can also assist rehabilitation from surgery or an injury,” it says.
Since opening in March 2011, the group points out that St George’s had helped over 4,500 local people “by providing pain relief, health improvements and freedom from isolation”.
But in July 2022 it was forced to admit defeat.
“Today (11.07.22) we are incredibly sad to announce that Peterborough City Council cabinet decided to permanently close St George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool,” it posted to their website.
“We are so sorry for the distress and concern this will undoubtedly cause our users and their loved ones. We did our very best. ”
The city council did try to ameliorate the impact of closure with a trial replacement service at Lime Academy Orton but that was latter scrapped.
“Following the closure of St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool, we went to great lengths to find alternative provision in the city for those people who benefit from access to hydrotherapy,” said a statement from the council this summer.
“The Lime Academy was identified, and residents have been able to book sessions there; initially the trial was for three months, but we extended it to try and encourage more people to use the facility.
“Unfortunately, these attempts were in vain, and usage of the pool has been much lower than anticipated, with only around 15 per cent of the sessions booked each week. “
“For example, in April there were 390 available sessions, of which only 45 were used – 11.5 per cent. That means the council had to spend £3,960 subsidising the pool.
“In May there were 510 available sessions, of which only 59 were used – 11.5 per cent. That means the council had to spend £4,392 subsidising the pool.
Bearing in mind that all sessions would need to be booked for the pool to cover its costs, this low usage has meant the council has had to subsidise the pool to the tune of around £4,000 each month.
“The council continues to face financial challenges and to be able to provide the services we need to for a growing population, with more complex needs, we have to think carefully about how we spend taxpayers’ money.
“It is not the responsibility of the council to provide hydrotherapy services for its residents, and therefore we cannot continue to subsidise sessions at the Lime Academy.”
Rob Hill, the assistant director for communities, said: “Despite every effort examining the options to reopen St George’s hydrotherapy pool and a detailed specialist survey being carried out, costs have now risen to £278,866.
“Analysis of the options included selling the business, leasing the business, a joint venture with the original owner and a community asset transfer, none of these would prove to be cost effective.”
Perhaps the only hope for a change of policy will come if there is a change of leadership at the city council – and that might happen sooner rather than later.
Tory council leader Wayne Fitzgerald is clinging to power by his fingertips, leading a Conservative minority group dramatically reduced in numbers since the May elections following the defection of seven of his former colleagues.
As yet the opposition groups have not proposed a motion of confidence that would lead to Cllr Fitzgerald being ousted but many councillors believe that could come as early as next month.
On the sidelines in the current debate over the specific issue of the hydrotherapy pool is Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the next election.
His voice, and his ambitions for the city, are becoming increasingly important as the country edges towards a general election.
“The council’s act of vandalism towards the hydrotherapy pool highlights all that is wrong in politics,” he says.
“Where is the ambition, compassion and can-do attitude to fix things and make life better for people?”
Maybe the best hope could be the resurrection of plans for a hydrotherapy pool first touted by Thistlemoor Medical Centre but then later withdrawn.
Dr Neil Modha, who is behind the plans, told the Peterborough Telegraph in the summer that he was expecting to re-submit the plans soon.
Last August Mr Bristow described his proposals for a new £2 million hydrotherapy pool as “really exciting. I shall organise another meeting between Dr Modha and groups including the friends of St George’s so they can input into how services might be delivered”.
The MP has been a long-term supporter of St George’s.
In 2020 the MP met with friends and service users of the St George’s pool.
“Plans have been submitted by the Modha family who run the Thistlemoor Medical Centre. They have my full 100% support.
The existing pool needs renewal and repair – but I won’t leave a stone unturned to ensure we get a hydrotherapy pool facility in our city.”
As Confucius once observed: “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
The current remnants of the former St George’s pool has plenty of them to move.
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