Does announcement give lifeline to fight to save Rothbury hospital beds?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan has welcomed an apparent change in focus of Government policy, after the Health Secretary said support would now be given to community hospitals.

In a speech to the Conservative Party Conference earlier this week, Matt Hancock said that ‘the era of moving all activity into fewer, larger hospitals – and blindly, invariably, closing community hospitals – is over’.

Campaigners against the closure of the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital last year.

Campaigners against the closure of the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital last year.

He added that he wants to see ‘more services closer to the communities they serve’.

Only time will tell if this is a lifeline for Rothbury Community Hospital, with a final decision over the controversial permanent closure of its 12-inpatient beds still in the balance.

Anne-Marie, who has campaigned against shutting the ward, said: “I am delighted by this change of tack from the Government, as it shows they are really listening to MPs like me who have been banging the drum for the importance of community respite and palliative care. There is an understandable move to create centres of excellence for conditions such as heart attack or stroke, but I firmly believe there is need and scope in the health mix to provide local care for long-term conditions, such as those provided by wonderful community hospitals.

“The care they provide has a real value to patients, frees up beds elsewhere, and in our more rural communities like Rothbury, it allows family members to play a bigger role in respite and recovery.”

However, a frustrated county councillor has blasted the Government for keeping hospital campaigners in continuing limbo’, branding the delay in crucial information as ‘cruel and totally unacceptable’.

Rothbury’s Steven Bridgett has criticised the time it is taking the Department for Health and Social Care to divulge the findings of a report into the future of the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital.

The 12 beds were closed – temporarily at first – in September 2016 due to ‘low usage’, to the anger of the community.

Twelve months on, the board of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group voted 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 (NCCHWC) decided to refer the decision to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In May this year, the matter was referred by Mr Hunt to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), which was asked to respond by June 7.

No decision has been announced as of yet. Mr Hunt was replaced as Health Secretary by Matt Hancock in July, which will have had an impact on the decision-making process. But Coun Bridgett has had enough, and in a letter to Mr Hancock, he demands answers and requests numerous items under the Freedom of Information Act, including the IRP report.

He warns that ‘failure to comply with this request will result in a referral/appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office in the first instance’.

Coun Bridgett wrote: ‘At the most recent meeting of the NCCHWC on September 4, the committee was told that the council had been informed by your department that the report/decision were imminent.

‘Four weeks have passed since then and it is clear that the Whitehall definition of imminent is different to that of any ordinary member of the public. I have residents who are dying and who could be receiving the excellent end-of-life care that so many of us have seen our friends and family receive in our local hospital prior to September 2016.’

Last month, Katie Scott, of the Save Rothbury Hospital campaign, raised concerns about the delay in Parliament.