Anger over the sudden closure of key service

Coun Steven Bridgett, Mark Gilson and Helen Walklett with her children Eleanor and Kate.
Coun Steven Bridgett, Mark Gilson and Helen Walklett with her children Eleanor and Kate.

Fury has erupted in Rothbury after the village’s minor injuries unit (MIU) closed for good without warning.

The service, based at Rothbury Community Hospital, shut its doors at 5pm on Tuesday.

The closure follows a review by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which provided the service, that found it was used by less than one patient a day.

But a lack of local consultation has annoyed residents and there are fears over the impact on the village’s GP surgery, which will now be the first port of call for patients.

Rothbury County Coun Steven Bridgett said: “There has been no consultation with the county council, no consultation with any of the local parish councils and, most importantly, no one from Northumbria Healthcare has even bothered to come and speak to residents.

“We lost our ambulance station and main vehicle eight years ago, we have continued to see the Coquetdale valley population grow, particularly the number of elderly residents, and we have the potential of 300 more homes over the next 16 years.

“Our doctors’ surgery is already at capacity so the emphasis being put on them, by the Trust, to pick up the numbers as a result of this cut is extremely worrying.”

Trine Bonsnes, practice manager at Rothbury Practice, said: “We don’t agree with the closure. Where will patients go after we close and at weekends? There are a number of people who don’t have transport to get to Alnwick and we are getting busier and busier.”

The Trust said 255 patients used in the service last year, with the vast majority not needing any intervention (36 per cent) or being sent on to another hospital (37 per cent), or their GP (27 per cent), for treatment.

But one resident, Helen Walklett, said the service was brilliant when her children needed ‘patching up’ and she had used it countless times.

She said: “I remember one time when my daughter burnt her hand on a lightbulb. It was late at night and they sorted her out. It saved us going across the moors, in the winter, to Alnwick.

“It’s a really good asset that will be really bad to lose.”

Another villager, Jessie Common, 77, added: “I feel very strongly about this. It’s a wonderful place. I used the service for the first time last month, when I fell in my garage. It saved me having to go to Wansbeck Hospital. I think it is terrible that they have closed it and nobody knew. I’d do anything to keep it.”

Rothbury parish council chairman, Mark Gilson, added: “No one was consulted, we didn’t know when it was going to close and we are getting more homes which means more patients.”

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “We recognise that people greatly value, as we do, the role of community hospitals across Northumberland and we are absolutely committed to working together with all health and social care partners to develop future local services that will bring real value to people living across the county.

“We must also, however, continually look at our services to make sure they are providing a good experience for patients. We know, from the data, that the number of people accessing minor injury advice in Rothbury has been declining year-on-year. Only a tiny proportion of these patients have actually received any care at all on site at Rothbury with the majority already being referred onto other hospitals where they can receive timely diagnostic tests or to their local GP practice. These pathways of care have been well established for many years now and we do not envisage any ‘extra’ workload.

“This change will ultimately ensure that patients can access NHS services in a more seamless way, with less chance of being passed around the system and more chance of getting to where they need to be first time.”

Dr Alistair Blair, chief clinical officer of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commisioning Group, said: “Given that most of the patients currently managed within the Rothbury MIU can be managed within the local GP surgery, duplication of these services does not seem sensible.”

He added: “Northumbria Healthcare asked the CCG if they could withdraw the minor injury service from Rothbury and given the extremely low numbers of less than one patient per day for conditions usually seen and treated by a GP, practice nurse or pharmacist, it was clear the service was not sustainable.

“We are really sorry if some people are disappointed by this but we felt that there was already good access to other local alternative services which are already being used by people in Rothbury.

“Northumbria, supported by ourselves, will engage further with the local community over the next few weeks to ensure people understand the best way to access minor illness and injury care.”