Controversial proposals to shut Rothbury Community Hospital’s inpatient ward moved a step closer to becoming a reality today, after a health board voted in favour of closing the facility.
But determined objectors are not giving up on their attempts to force a U-turn, vowing to fight until the last and threatening to take the issue to a judicial review.
There were cries of ‘shame’ and ‘give us our beds’ after the Joint Locality Executive Board of the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) made its contentious decision at Morpeth Town Hall.
Members voted unanimously in favour of permanently closing the inpatient ward and shaping existing services around a Health and Wellbeing Centre at the hospital.
Making the decision in front of hoards of protesters who had packed into the room – many holding Save Our Beds placards – the Board rejected the option to reopen the inpatient ward.
The members also turned down an alternative bid put forward by the Coquetdale community to reopen the inpatient ward and develop a Health and Wellbeing Centre on the site.
The decision will now go to Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee, which will consider the ward’s fate during a public meeting at County Hall on Tuesday, October 17.
The outcome of today’s meeting sparked dismay and anger among the objectors, who afterwards issued a message of defiance to the decision-makers.
Katie Scott, coordinator of the Save Rothbury Hospital campaign group, said: “We are not finished. We have got something else up our sleeve and we will fight on.”
Fellow protester Alan English, who is also involved in the group, reiterated this stance.
He said: “We are extremely disappointed that they did not do the honourable thing and reverse their decision and listen to the community.
“But it is not over yet and the fight continues. The next meeting is on October 17 and if we are not successful, we will go to a judicial review. We have already started funding for this. We will fight all the way.”
The 12-bed ward has been closed since September 2016, due to ‘low usage’.
Earlier this year, Northumberland CCG ran a consultation to consider the fate of the beds, putting forward the proposal to shut the facility and create the Health and Wellbeing Centre.
However, the Coquetdale community has campaigned against this, calling for the ward to be reopened.
A petition was signed by more than 5,000 people and at today’s meeting, Katie Scott said that ‘every person who responded to the consultation was against the closure’.
During the consultation process, numerous concerns were raised by objectors, including travel and distance; a lack of palliative care beds; and the lack of evidence to temporary close the beds.
At the meeting, Dr Alistair Blair, clinical chairman for the CCG, said that since temporarily closing the ward, there has been no unexpected pressures on local health and care services and no evidence of adverse medical consequences on individual patients.
The CCG says that within three months of creating a Health and Wellbeing Centre, a range of additional services would be provided, including an additional specialist palliative-care nurse, a range of ‘virtual’ outpatient clinics and outpatient blood monitoring for patients who need regular blood tests. These would be in addition to existing services at the hospital.
In the longer term, consideration would be given to including services such as infusions for patients with a range of chronic conditions, more diagnostic testing and NHS denistry.
The CCG claimed that year-on-year savings of permanently closing the inpatient beds and developing a Health and Wellbeing Centre would be more than £450,000.
The CCG also said that it would establish a working group – to include members of the community – to discuss local general health and wellbeing needs and how best to address them while ensuring that all future services are delivered efficiently, effectively and economically.
After the meeting, Rothbury county councillor Steven Bridgett expressed his frustration at the decision.
He added: “The next stage of this process will be a review of the decision by county-council committee, which has the ability to refer the decision to the Secretary of State. I will be making representations at this meeting as the local member.”