Six years after they were first announced, plans for a £25million new hospital on the site of Berwick Infirmary are back on the table.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), is proposing a new stand-alone hospital on the current infirmary site.
The decision comes after plans for an integrated health and leisure development on the Swan Centre site in Tweedmouth were abandoned in the face of heavy criticism.
Following this feedback –which included a public protest attended by over 200 local residents – both organisations reviewed the alternative options and concluded they would develop a new hospital on the existing site.
The Seton Hall site, which had been viewed as a frontrunner, has been ruled out because of highways issues and concerns about smells from the nearby sewage works.
Northumbria Healthcare chief executive, Sir James Mackey, said: “We are delighted to be able to announce that the new hospital will be built on the site of the much loved (Berwick) Infirmary.
“Following extensive joint public engagement, and a thorough review of all alternative sites, we believe this is the best option which also commands the support of both staff and the community – a factor which is very important to both the trust and the CCG.”
“It is clear that the joint development was not what the town wanted. Instead, people demonstrated their support for a stand-alone hospital on the current site.
“Accordingly, we have listened, responded and worked together to come up with this plan as an alternative.”
Janet Guy, chair of Northumberland CCG agreed: “This is great news for Berwick and we are delighted to see the project moving forward in a way that meets the needs of the local community. Patients are at the heart of our services and this decision is as a direct result of the feedback we have heard.
“We very much look forward to working with Northumbria Healthcare to provide a first class health facility for the people of Berwick. It’s very exciting and is brilliant news for both the NHS and the town.”
Both the trust and the CCG emphasised that the full £25million allocated for the project would be invested on the new hospital.
“It’s too early to have specific plans in place – though we are in preliminary talks with a number of possible developers - but we are working quickly to ensure we have plans to share as soon as possible” continued Sir James.
“In particular we’ve listen to the local community’s concerns that they have to travel too far, too often for relatively minor or routine appointments. As such, eradicating the need to travel for minor or routine appointments will be a driving force behind our plans and we will ensure we track and publish the number of miles patients have to travel on a yearly basis, with a clear aim to make significant reductions in this travel for patients.”
“The design will focus on flexibility, embracing new technology and, most important, ensuring outstanding care,” said Janet.
“The emphasis will be on delivering as much as we safely can as close to patients as possible – including in primary care; the opportunities for which we are very excited about.”
The new hospital will represent the very latest in design and be ‘future proofed’; with all current services being retained and with a view to incorporating more where safe to do so.
“We fully expect that the new hospital will adapt and evolve over time – the NHS is ever changing after all,” said Sir James.
“I can confirm that all the services currently provided at the Infirmary will continue. In addition, I can also assure residents that we are looking very closely at what might safely be added - especially with the aid of new technology and ways of working - for instance, telemedicine.
“On a personal note, I would like to thank staff and the community for their patience and participation throughout this process. I know it’s been a long and sometimes frustrating road – a sentiment I share – but this is a big, positive step forward.
“Now we have a plan in place we are absolutely determined to get on with it. To that end, I very much look to working with the people of the town and surrounding area as we start work on the next phase.”
The NHS announced its intention to rebuild Berwick Infirmary at the end of 2013. Northumberland County Council then approved a £25million loan to Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation in July 2014. However, the plans were put on hold in 2016 to ensure its health and care services were fit for the future.
NHS representatives will be at Berwick market on Marygate on May 29 and June 5 to speak to residents about the plans.