Community hospitals are a vital part of NHS – says PM

Protestors against the closure make their feelings known.
Protestors against the closure make their feelings known.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that community hospitals are ‘a vital part of the NHS’, as the fight to reopen 12 beds at Rothbury hospital continues.

Earlier this month, the Gazette reported that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had referred a decision to permanently close the inpatient ward to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), which will make an initial assessment on the plans.

The IRP can recommend that the Health Secretary overturns the proposals.

Last week, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan quizzed Mrs May on Rothbury hospital.

She said: “The 12 in-bed provision at Rothbury Community Hospital was removed without adequate consultation back in September 2016.

“Campaigners and I have worked closely together to get transparency on that decision and return the in-bed provision for our vast and sparsely populated Coquet Valley.

“Does the Prime Minister agree that the NHS should be investing in community hospitals, which can provide that low-level nursing for convalescence and palliative care for my constituents and others, and will she support our campaign to get it back?”

The Prime Minister responded: “My Hon. Friend is absolutely right to be raising this issue on behalf of her constituents in the way that she is.

“I understand this issue is currently being considered by the IRP, which will then advise the Health Secretary. As the issue is under an independent review at present, I will not go into further detail on the specifics, but on the general point I wholeheartedly agree with her that community hospitals are a vital part of the range of services we want to see in our NHS.”

Afterwards, Anne-Marie said she would continue to help the fight to save the beds at Rothbury and added: “I am delighted the Prime Minister wholeheartedly agrees on the importance of community hospitals, and investing in them, which is a boost in the current circumstances.”

The future of the inpatient ward was placed into the hands of Mr Hunt after Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee referred the matter to him in October.

A month previously, the joint executive board of the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group voted to permanently close the ward and shape the existing services around a Health and Wellbeing Centre at the hospital.

The beds were shut in September 2016 – at first temporarily – due to ‘low usage’.