Continued concerns at second meeting on Rothbury hospital

Protestors at the public meeting.
Protestors at the public meeting.

Objectors fighting the proposed closure of Rothbury’s inpatient ward have accused the NHS of not doing enough to utilise and promote the beds.

In one horror story, an 83-year-old resident said she waited 13 hours on a trolley at Wansbeck Hospital before being transferred to the Coquetdale facility – and only after her daughter asked if she could go there.

The views were voiced at an emotionally-charged public meeting in the village last Thursday, where a petition signed by nearly 5,500 people calling for the 12 beds to be reopened was presented to NHS bosses.

The meeting came as part of a three-month consultation period, run by NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), to consider the fate of the ward at Rothbury Community Hospital, which has been closed since September due to ‘low usage’.

The NHS is proposing to permanently shut the facility – which has been closed since September – and shape existing services around a Health and Wellbeing Centre on the hospital site. But objectors have described it as a huge disappointment and accused the CCG of ignoring the heartfelt views of the community, which wants to retain the beds.

Protestors fear the beds have been allowed to be under-utilised, but at the meeting Dr Jeremy Rushmer disputed this, saying: “When Rothbury was open, we tried to make the best use of those beds.”

But this was countered by pensioner Anne Swailes, who said: “I fractured my spine. I was taken to Wansbeck and was on a trolley for 13 hours because they couldn’t find a bed for me. Eventually, at 2am my daughter said to staff ‘could she not go to Rothbury?’ and they said ‘oh, I suppose so’ and I was moved there. But before that, nobody had offered Rothbury to me!”

Another resident claimed that in Northumberland each month there are between nine and 15 cases of delayed transfers of care. He suggested that some of these patients could have been moved to Rothbury, adding: ‘You haven’t done enough’.

At the meeting, NHS bosses admitted that Northumbria NHS Trust is paying around £600,000 a year on a PFI contract. Rothbury Coun Steven Bridgett asked that if this contract could be lowered, could the savings be used to reopen the beds. In response, Dr Alistair Blair, clinical chairman of Northumberland CCG, said: “I don’t think so. We wouldn’t want empty beds to be funded.”

A furious Coun Bridgett accused the NHS of having already made up its mind about the ward’s future and put the decision down to ‘financial ideology’. He added: “If there was a genuine mission within the NHS to fill these beds, you could do it.”

Critics slammed the fact that the consultation only has one option – the Health and Wellbeing Centre. In response, Janet Guy, lay chairman for Northumberland CCG, said: “We had a lot of discussion about this, but we needed options which fitted the criteria and were sustainable.”

The consultation runs until Tuesday, April 25, and an announcement is expected in the summer.

Dr Blair told the meeting that a University of Leeds study, to understand and optimise community hospital ward care, will feed into the decision-making process. He said the petition will be taken into account, as will an alternative option being drawn up by the campaign group, which has not yet been unveiled. Dr Blair said it was about finding the best uses for the building.