A campaign group which fought the closure of Rothbury’s inpatient ward has said ‘it takes no pleasure’ in seeing its concerns vindicated.
As revealed last week, the 12 beds, which were first shut in September 2016, will remain closed for now, but the Government has called for more work locally on the next steps, with a report highlighting flaws in the consultation process.
Katie Scott, coordinator of the Save Rothbury Community Hospital campaign team (SRCH), said: “It gives us no satisfaction whatsoever in being shown to be correct in our criticism of the CCG’s disgraceful consultation on the closure of our ward. We feel entirely let down by the powers that be in allowing this situation to happen.
“Residents of Coquetdale have suffered, and continue to suffer, from the closure of our ward. For over two years now, our purpose-built, infection-controlled ward has been needlessly mothballed.
“All the while, our elderly and vulnerable residents have been shunted to and from acute wards and, in some cases, left alone at home with no care package in place. This disgraceful situation must now be remedied.”
The 12-bed inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital was closed – temporarily at first, it was claimed – in September 2016 due to low usage, sparking a community campaign to oppose its loss.
Twelve months on, the board of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) voted unanimously to close the ward permanently and reshape the existing services around a health and wellbeing centre at the hospital.
But in October last year, Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee decided to refer the decision to the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
In May this year, the matter was referred by Mr Hunt to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), a non-departmental public health body, which issued its response last week.
The IRP concludes that there were flaws in the engagement and consultation processes that were undertaken by the CCG and that ‘further action locally is required to agree and implement the proposed health and wellbeing centre, potentially including inpatient beds, at Rothbury Community Hospital’.
SRCH says that it ‘expects and hopes to be invited to hold an equal place with other parties in the talks which need to now happen to resolve the situation’.
The team agrees with the IRP’s assessment that ‘Rothbury Community Hospital has the potential to be an excellent local facility – one that makes best use of the building both clinically and cost-effectively for the benefit of local people’.
Ms Scott added: “It is crucial that SRCH is given a voice – and it will continue with its respectful and polite tone which has been a key aspect of its campaign.
“We very much hope that all future discussions will take place fully and freely between all parties in a good-natured spirit of cooperation.
“We hope we will all share the common objectives of serving the local community in the best possible way. Coquetdale cares – and we have waited too long.”
The CCG’s statement said that it ‘now needs to consider this advice and hold discussions with Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust over the coming weeks’.
It added: “In the meantime, the inpatient ward will remain closed until further notice. Details on the way forward will be shared as soon as they are available.”
The panel provided advice over what needs to be done next, which has been accepted by the new Secretary of State, Matt Hancock.
According to the IRP, the next steps should include:
The CCG and NHS trust in collaboration with the council’s health and wellbeing committee and the local community should concentrate their efforts in refining the current ‘possible’ and ‘probable’ lists of services into something more tangible;
The CCG and committee should jointly undertake an appropriate assessment to examine the impact of additional travel, costs and inconveniences for families and carers of those affected. Given how long the inpatient ward has been closed, there should be ample evidence now to enable a firm conclusion to be reached;
The CCG and committee should focus on those most affected, to consider the impact on families and carers of travelling further afield and to engage fully with the community as the health and well-being centre is developed.
In his letter to Coun Jeff Watson, who is the chairman of the county council’s health and wellbeing committee, Mr Hancock said: “Consideration of the option of reopening the inpatient ward must form part of this work.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service