Consultation to be launched over the future of Rothbury inpatient ward

Rothbury Community Hospital.
Rothbury Community Hospital.

A formal consultation period to examine the future of the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital is set to start in December, it has been announced today.

This will result in an extension of the current temporary suspension of the facility, which sparked anger in the community when it was introduced at the beginning of September.

The Coquetdale village is being informed of the news at a public meeting at 6.30pm tonight at the Jubilee Hall.

The NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust dropped the bombshell on September 2 that the 12-bed facility would be shut for three months, to be reviewed in November, due to an alleged fall in patient numbers.

All other services operating from the hospital have remained unaffected and all affected staff were found appropriate alternative work within the Trust.

The initial suspension led to a petition, the formation of a campaign group and protests. Rothbury-born TV star Alexander Armstrong also hit out against the closure and backed the objectors, who said it would be a major blow to the community if the ward were to shut for good.

Following the announcement, the CCG undertook a comprehensive review of inpatient activity and its findings are being presented to tonight’s meeting.

The review looked at activity in the ward prior to the suspension, taking into consideration hospital bed usage, community services and social-care data.

All comments raised by local people during a recent period of engagement assisted the review process. The report says that concerns raised by the community included the future of the building; the quality of care given at home if the inpatient ward shuts permanently; and the area’s rurality, with many saying that this was not taken into account in the county’s healthcare decision-making process. They added that there is a lack of public transport, which means there are difficulties visiting loved ones admitted to other hospitals.

The CCG says that the data showed that inpatient bed occupancy has been very low since 2013, alongside a notable increase in the use of local community services.

In the period 2015 to 2016, 53 per cent of the beds at Rothbury were occupied and community nursing contacts peaked at 7,629 in the period from October 2015 to September 2016.

The CCG says that the operational decision to suspend inpatient services at Rothbury was found to be based on accurate usage data and the review states that patient care had not been compromised as a result of the suspension.

The low usage of the hospital’s inpatient ward is due both to the increase in patients being cared for in their own homes and changes in hospital care for patients having operations or requiring emergency admissions. As a result, patients are spending much less time in hospital.

The review also found that there is a continued need for the hospital’s wider services and efforts should remain to support the local community.

It recommended that the CCG’s executive board consider a period of formal consultation, beginning in December, and extending the temporary suspension of inpatient admissions until the consultation is complete and the resulting recommendations have been fully considered.

There is currently no date for when the consultation will end, or when a formal decision will be made.

The report states that the broader future of the building is not in the review’s scope; ‘however many concerns raised and suggestions voiced will inform future thinking’.

It adds that the Trust and Rothbury’s GP practice have recently confirmed their commitment to use the building to enhance local provision of primary care.

It continues: ‘This move would complement current outpatient services and may enable further developments in the future. All other current hospital services remain unchanged.’

Dr Alistair Blair, chief clinical officer for the CCG, said: “The fact that the bed occupancy rate in Rothbury has been so low, for such a long time, simply cannot be ignored. This is particularly so when considered alongside the pressures experienced elsewhere in the NHS and Northumberland’s healthcare system and the need to ensure that effort is concentrated where patients need it most.

“The CCG’s aim is always to make sure patients receive the treatment and ongoing care at the most appropriate and safest place for their individual needs, however, it also has to consider the most sustainable ways of delivering this in the future.

“We wholeheartedly understand the concerns recently raised but the fact inpatient beds have been so underused is a result of significant improvements in the levels of care that can now be delivered at home.

“We would like to reassure the people in Rothbury that no permanent decision has been made on the future of the inpatient ward and we look forward to the forthcoming formal consultation which will give local people another opportunity to comment.

“Consultation details will be published as soon as they become available and I would encourage everyone to have their say. As we move forward, local views will continue to be very important to the CCG.”

Click here for the full report.