On Monday, Katie Scott, the Rothbury campaign coordinator, joined others from around the country to ask politicians to listen to them as they explained their despair regarding health cuts in their communities.
All had first-hand experience of CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) consultations, local authority scrutiny panels and referrals to the Department of Health and then the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), a non-departmental public health body.
All campaigners said they felt the IRP should be coming into communities to see for themselves what the cuts mean to local people.
The 12-bed inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital was closed – temporarily at first, it was claimed – in September 2016 due to low usage, but to the dismay of the community, who opposed it vociferously.
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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 Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
In May this year, the matter was referred by Mr Hunt to the IRP, which was asked to respond by June 7.
Since then, there have been no updates, although Jeremy Hunt was replaced as Health Secretary by Matt Hancock in July, which will have had an impact on the decision-making process.
Katie told Monday’s meeting that the Rothbury ward has been closed for exactly two years and that the Department of Health has simply ‘sat’ on the advice given by the IRP.
She said that no one appears to be listening to the people of Coquetdale, who want the ward to be reopened.
Katie added: “It is time that MPs, civil servants and government bodies started to listen to real spokespeople from communities, instead of having faith in what the money and ideology-driven NHS and CCG management would have them believe.”
The MPs present, including Berwick’s Anne-Marie Trevelyan, agreed to an action plan, which includes them asking the Health Select Committee to look at the role of the IRP and speaking to the Health Secretary.
When it made the decision, NHS Northumberland CCG said the closure would ensure that it makes best and most efficient use of the staff and facilities available and would be in line with national and local policy to provide more care outside of hospital. It would also result in savings of around £500,000 a year.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service