A decision to close the NHS hydrotherapy pool at Royal Berkshire Hospital has been slammed by Reading councillors as “deeply uncaring” and “simply wrong”.

Councillor Graeme Hoskin, lead member for Health, Wellbeing and Sport, put forward a motion to Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) Full Council meeting, calling for councillors to:

  • Request that RBC’s chief executive writes to chief officers at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and the Berkshire West NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, expressing the council’s strong opposition to the decision to permanently close the pool with no confirmed replacement
  • Request that Cllr Hoksin seeks to gain the support of Reading’s MPs, Wokingham Borough Council and West Berkshire Council, and work with  interested groups to oppose the permanent closure without adequate replacement
  • Instead, push for expanded provision of NHS hydrotherapy in Reading

READ MORE: Royal Berks hydrotherapy pool to close following decision to cut funding

Hydrotherapy is the use of water in the treatment of different conditions, including arthritis and related rheumatic complaints.

Cllr Hoskin said: “I think there may be a greater need for hydrotherapy now than there has been before. I think it is really important that the NHS steps back and listens to the experts. This is the wrong decision to make. Reading needs NHS hydrotherapy to be available.”

All councillors backed the motion, with many expressing disappointment at the decision to close the hydrotherapy pool.

Cllr Hoskin added: “It is disappointing that this proposal is coming forward at this time. This pandemic has stymied the opportunity for the groups we work with to get out there and campaign.

“When this was proposed a couple of years ago, we went out and campaigned and there was almost unanimous support for the campaign against closing the hydrotherapy pool.”

Green councillor Jamie Whitham said the fact the pool had been used less during the pandemic should not be an excuse to close it and Labour councillor Sarah Hacker called the decision “deeply uncaring and unfortunate”.

Cllr Hacker added: “If the pool cannot be provided for at Royal Berkshire Hospital it should be provided elsewhere with greater opportunity for people to access this very vital service.”

Conservative councillor Simon Robinson said the decision to close the pool is “simply wrong” and based on “clearly misleading assessments”, urging the trust to reconsider.

While Lib Dem councillor Ricky Duveen said the service is “invaluable” and it is “a great shame” to lose it.

The Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said it would not be a viable option to keep the pool open following the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group’s decision in December 2020 to stop funding routine treatment.

It said it is in touch with service users and partners such as RBC to explain its position and answer questions, and is in close contact with the CCG as it searches for an alternative pool.

But Labour councillor Rachel Eden said the  savings are a “false economy” as in the long-term conditions could be worsened and the short-term financial gain could become long-term financial cost.

Councillor David McElroy brought the conversation back to the town’s swimming pool provision, with members earlier in the evening approving an extra £2 million spend on two new leisure centres.

READ MORE: Extra spend on new leisure centres approved

He said: “This pool has been a really important place for kids to learn to swim in the absence of Arthur Hill over the last few years.

“I wonder if this probably fictional replacement will be 50m. Perhaps it can pick up some more slack from the local area too.”

Cllr McElroy was criticised for his comments, with Cllr Hoskin: “This is not a joking matter. It is very serious.”

The closure has also been opposed by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.