The future of the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital is going to the top, after councillors voted to refer the matter to the Health Secretary.
After the joint executive board of the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) last month voted unanimously in favour of permanently closing the inpatient ward and shaping the existing services around a Health and Wellbeing Centre at the hospital, the proposed closure of the 12 beds was discussed by Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee this morning.
And now that closure is on hold and the final decision rests with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The aim of today's meeting was to decide if the consultation with the committee had been adequate; if the committee felt the proposal would not be in the best interests of the health service in Northumberland; and therefore it it had sufficient evidence of these concerns to make a referral to the Secretary of State for Health.
And as part of her statement to members, Katie Scott, from the Save Rothbury Community Hospital campaign group, reflected on this first issue. "Surely at all stages the scrutiny committee should have been consulted? It seems to us that you have been ignored," she said. "I believe today is the first opportunity in over 14 months for the committee to fully examine the proposal to take away our beds."
She also questioned the reasons put forward by the CCG for the proposed closure - the alleged savings, bed underuse and the drive to treat people in their own homes - claiming all are flawed, as well as saying the consultation has been 'defective'.
However, Stephen Young, Northumberland CCG's strategic head of corporate affairs, outlined the lengthy process of consultation, including with the committee, and explained that it was made clear to councillors that there was no local support for the proposed closure. He added: "We believe there's alternative, suitable provision in the area."
His colleague, Dr Alistair Blair, the clinical chairman, set out the clinical reasons behind the proposed closure, which included the fall in bed occupancy and the wider national context around more care being provided at home and why this was beneficial.
He added that they had been monitoring the impact on healthcare services elsewhere in Northumberland for 12 months while the ward has been shut and there have been no adverse consequences. "We understand that this does not have local support but we have to look at the evidence base," Dr Blair said. "We hope the Health and Wellbeing Centre will benefit more local people."
One local who benefitted from the ward prior to its closure was Coun Steven Bridgett's grandmother - the care she received at the hospital prior to her death in 2012 was the focus of an emotional address by the local ward member: "Gran was so well looked after and cared for that you would forget that she was 91 and had most of her body failing her."
It was his statement which probably resonated most with the Rothbury residents who had filled the council chamber at County Hall in Morpeth. "We are no more than numbers on paper to the CCG," he said.
Turning their attention to the three questions mentioned above, a majority of the committee members considered that the consultation with the committee had not been adequate as the preferred option for consultation, ie, the closure of the ward and the creation of a Health and Wellbeing Centre, was decided and the consultation started before being brought to the scrutiny committee, albeit the CCG brought the matter to the first available meeting once that decision was taken.
A majority of the councillors also felt that whether the proposal was in the best interests of the health service in Northumberland could not be fully assessed as it had not been made clear exactly what the Health and Wellbeing Centre will be and there were also questions over the robustness of the data in relation to future-proofing and knock-on impacts in the rest of the county.
Therefore, following around half-an-hour spent thrashing out their reasons amid advice from the council's senior legal officer, members voted to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. In each case, members voted by five votes to two with one abstention.