Address to Full Council 27.07.22
From St George's Service Users' Lead, Karen Oldale
My words over the next few minutes cannot do justice the enormity of the decision you are about to make on the health and wellbeing of local people’s lives – your constituents.
Every councillor here will have St George’s service users living in their ward.
So why does saving St George’s matter? Or if we cannot save St George’s, ensure that there really is a genuine future for community hydrotherapy in Peterborough? You will hear about this in the second proposal tonight.
St George’s was a successful, a well-evidenced, a well-used and vital service that has been transforming lives for the past ten years.
It had 4,500 registered users of whom 250 were accessing the pool every week.
The pool was used by a wide range of Peterborough residents: disabled people, those with long-term health conditions and those rehabilitating. Anyone can have a need for hydrotherapy at any time.
Over 60% of users reported that their disability or health affected their day-to-day activities ‘a lot.’ 33% of users had a learning disability. For many the pool brought companionship and enormous pleasure too. Our users often came from the most deprived wards in our city.
They relied on St George’s to be physically active and to successfully manage their health, wellbeing and pain. And this is important – for these people it was their only way. St George’s users cannot go to the Lido or the gym. For some it was the only time they experienced the freedom of not being on or in a piece of equipment. Can you imagine that? St George’s was a lifeline.
Surely taking responsibility to self-manage one’s health should be something a responsible council should be encouraging - not unnecessarily shutting it down.
And we maintain shutting it down is unnecessary - none of the reasons given stack up.
The cost for the council of refurbishing and re-opening the pool keeps being mentioned, but this was never asked for.
St George’s users only wanted the council to honour its agreement, as passed by Full Council, to sell the pool to an aquatic physiotherapist.
Please can we reiterate, as this seems to have been lost, this sale would have generated a profit for the council of £65,000 - £75,000. All further financial responsibilities, including refurbishing and the running of the pool, including for the community’s use, would lie with the buyer – not the council.
This should have been an absolute win-win. What was not to like?
We were told the need Heltwate School to expand as the reason for closing. Turning a hydrotherapy pool into a classroom sounds an incredibly expensive and unfeasible use of taxpayers’ money. Especially if the school may relocate and there are far simpler options for expansion.
Ironically, taking the pool hall for a classroom would deprive those same, special needs pupils at Heltwate, and across the city, of the very hydrotherapy pool that they need.
Did councillors know that 18 different schools and organizations for children with special educational needs and disabilities had been using St George’s? Sometimes 140 pupils per week.
And any extra profit gained from selling Heltwate St George’s School with the pool is entirely uncertain and speculative.
Meanwhile, the costs of NOT having hydrotherapy keep rising.
The loss of over 1.5 million pounds of social and economic value that St George’s was delivering every year. Especially to Adult Social Care - the very service that is putting a strain on council finances.
And of course, one can’t put a price on the loss of users’ independence and health. Devastating and heart-breaking does not do justice to some of the stories I’ve heard. The desperation is palpable.
The person who has become bedbound and developed diabetes. The person who lost ability to walk and get dressed. The person now on morphine. The one who no longer goes out. Others who are now on waiting lists for operations whereas previously they were managing at the pool.
We also have some shocking statistical evidence of physical and the emotional impact loss of hydrotherapy is having on our users.
The decision to not sell and re-open St George’s as planned is short-sighted. It feels discriminatory and cruel. It will increase health inequalities, cost vulnerable residents their health and the council money.
However, if St George’s cannot be sold and re-opened as our petition requested, we do hope you will now support the second proposal. It’s the right thing to do for everyone involved and for the public benefit. The proposal will ensure the safe future of professionally managed and accessible community hydrotherapy for our city in the years to come.