A consultation period has begun on proposals to permanently close the 12-bed inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital.
The three-month consultation is being led by the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group and will run until Tuesday, April 25.
The ward has been temporarily closed since the beginning of September due to ‘low usage’, but now the NHS has said that it wants to permanently shut the facility and shape existing services around a Health and Wellbeing Centre on the hospital site.
Health bosses say that a Health and Wellbeing Centre could include the relocation of the GP practice, more physiotherapy services and more outpatient clinics, including possibly using video links so that patients can have a consultation with a specialist who is based at another hospital.
But objectors have described the news as a huge disappointment and a short-sited approach and accused the CCG of ignoring the heartfelt views of the community.
Dr Alistair Blair, clinical chairman at the CCG, said: “We recognise how much people have valued the inpatient care at the hospital over the years, but we have seen advances in healthcare which mean people are spending much less time in hospital.
“Following joint replacements and treatments for stroke, heart and respiratory conditions patients are often discharged home within a few days, with support if needed. Years ago they would have been in hospital for a couple of weeks or more and community hospital beds would have been used to ease their transition home.
“We know that much more support is now provided in the community and that in particular, more frail older people receive care at home to help them to stay well and independent. So they only go into hospital if the care they need can’t be provided in their own home.
“We considered whether it would be possible to use the beds to provide a mix of care as people have said they would like respite and end of life care provided at the hospital.
“First of all, respite care is not funded by the NHS and we would need to find an organisation outside the NHS willing to provide this. But even if the whole ward was used for respite care it is unlikely that a provider would be able to fill all 12 beds with people from the local area and it would therefore be neither economically viable or sustainable.
“In terms of end-of-life care, only a small number of people have died in the hospital over recent years as much more care is provided to support people to die at home if that is their wish. However, we look forward to hearing from people during the consultation about how they think these types of care could be provided in the community.
“We feel there are real opportunities to talk to local people about how we can shape existing services around a Health and Wellbeing Centre at the hospital this could provide benefits for many people for example including the relocation of the GP practice, more physiotherapy and more outpatient appointments.”
People can comment in a number of ways:
○ There is an online survey which is also available as hard copies and will be independently evaluated,
○ By emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
○ By writing to Rothbury Community Hospital Consultation, NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, County Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland NE61 2EF.
○ By attending one of six public events being held in the coming weeks. Two public meetings will be held at Rothbury’s Jubilee Hall. One will be on Thursday, February 16, from 2pm to 4pm, followed by another on Thursday, March 30, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. There will also be four drop-in sessions. These will take place on Saturday, March 4, from 10am to noon, at the Simonside Room, Jubilee Hall; Monday, March 13, 4pm to 6pm, at the Group Room, Rothbury Community Hospital; Tuesday, March 21, 6pm to 8pm, at the Group Room, Rothbury Community Hospital; and Wednesday, April 5, 2pm to 4pm, at the Simonside Room, Jubilee Hall.
The CCG has also asked Healthwatch Northumberland to facilitate some discussions with older people.
However, objectors are not impressed with the proposal to permanently shut the inpatient ward. A campaign to save the site began after the ward was closed suddenly and unexpectedly in September. It has led to a petition being signed by more than 4,000 residents, while members of the community spoke passionately about retaining the beds at a packed public meeting in November, which was hosted by Northumberland CCG.
The Save Rothbury Hospital Campaign Group has also proposed an alternative plan to turn the hospital into an innovative and forward-thinking community health hub, in line with current NHS policies.
Campaign group coordinator Katie Scott said she was ‘hugely disappointed’ with the CCG’s proposals for the ward, adding that it would leave local residents with no in-patient beds suitable for end-of-life and social care use within easy reach of their homes.
She added: “This is such a short-sighted approach to providing suitable healthcare for a rural population like ours. The inpatient ward is essential to help patients just out of acute beds who still need care, those who need rehabilitation before transferring home, and, crucially, those at the end of their lives who choose to spend their last days close to loved ones and their home.
“We feel that the CCG has chosen to ignore all of the heartfelt views put forward by hundreds of people across Coquetdale. The CCG has had one plan in mind from the outset last September and they’ve just stuck to it, regardless of people’s deep feelings on this issue. This so-called consultation now is just a sham in our view.”
Another disappointed campaigner, Steve Proctor, Emeritus Professor of haematology, said: “Bed blocking in the county’s acute hospitals is a major issue and closing low maintenance beds in rural Northumberland that could alleviate the problem is wrong and extraordinarily short-sighted.
“With increasing numbers of people living longer, more beds for the elderly and end-of-life care will be required in the county and elsewhere. Why then pull the plug on lovely purpose-built care facilities in Rothbury?”
Objectors are encouraging as many people as possible to attend the public meetings.
The inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital has been suspended for operational reasons since September 2016, when a review was started to consider how beds were being used.
The NHS says that this showed that during 2015/16 on average only half of the beds were occupied, which is partly due to medical advances which mean that people now spend much less time in hospital following an operation or treatment for an illness or injury. The NHS says that the review also showed that much more support is now being provided to support people in their own homes.
Since then the CCG says that it has been considering future options for the hospital site. This has included consideration of feedback received from local people during autumn 2017 and more recently about the provision of a mix of different types of care in the hospital beds and also about how other services could be optimised at the hospital.