Assurances for Northumberland patients over service changes

Regional changes to NHS vascular services will not have a major impact on Northumberland patients and should result in an improved offering, councillors were told.
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Vascular services, dealing with disorders of arteries and veins, are currently provided from four sites in the North East – Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital, Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, Sunderland Royal Hospital and University Hospital of North Durham.

A strategic review in 2014 concluded that the region’s provision should be reconfigured to a maximum of three vascular hubs – centres that provide a full, high-quality service.

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The Freeman and James Cook are major trauma centres and therefore had to retain full vascular services, leaving a choice between Durham and Sunderland, both of whom felt that they were best placed to continue delivering services.

However, following an independent review, it was decided that Sunderland should be the third vascular centre for the North East, with Gateshead patients to be sent to Newcastle.

At its meeting last Tuesday, Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee was told that Northumberland hasn’t had a vascular surgeon since the late 1990s.

But as Dr Mike Clarke explained: “The concern is that by taking on Gateshead’s work, we are reducing capacity for Northumberland patients.”

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However, he reassured members that this would not be the case as the Freeman will be taking on an additional two vascular surgeons, taking the total to eight, which also means there will always be a consultant on call for emergencies – “I think access for urgent care will be better,” he said.

“When we went to six surgeons in 2001, one of our desires was to start to run clinics in Northumberland facilities,” he added. “That’s never happened because we haven’t had people available to travel, but that’s something we can look at.

“This is absolutely the way forward.”

Coun Lesley Rickerby asked about the risk of patients choosing not to go to Sunderland, but going to Newcastle instead, but was told that regardless of where patients live, they are able to choose where they have their planned vascular surgery.

In an emergency situation, the patient would always be taken to the nearest vascular centre.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service