Northumberland councillor slams NHS 'non-jobs'

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.

A Northumberland county councillor who has been fighting to save frontline health services in his community has slammed new ‘non-jobs’ at an NHS trust.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is in the process of employing five locality coordinators to ‘undertake community development work across Northumberland’ on salaries of £23,023 to £29,608 a year.

Each would represent a different local area council patch – Ashington/Blyth; Castle Morpeth; Cramlington/Bedlington/Seaton Valley; North Northumberland; Tynedale – and would be based with a voluntary, community or social enterprise partner.

The job description says that the aim is to ‘support the creation of stronger and more resilient communities, building on existing strengths and identifying areas with the communities themselves where work is required’.

But it comes at a time when, for example, it was announced last week that staffing issues mean that the urgent care unit at Hexham General Hospital will remain closed between 10pm and 8am for an ‘indeterminate period’.

And the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital has been closed for just under two years with a final decision from the Health Secretary still being awaited.

These new roles are funded via the county council’s public health grant from the Government and this money could not be used for the likes of inpatient beds, but Rothbury councillor Steven Bridgett is nonetheless critical about the priorities for health spending in the county.

He railed against a government ‘that is continuing to slash the NHS budget and sell off parts of our National Health Service’ and a CCG and NHS trust locally that are ‘cutting frontline services’ and ‘reducing community healthcare provision across Northumberland’.

“And then we have Northumberland County Council, which with its central government-allocated budget for healthcare, chooses to waste £150,000 of that budget on the creation of non-jobs like locality coordinators, who, judging by their advertised job descriptions, will do very little to improve frontline healthcare provision in Northumberland, which is what our residents actually need,” he said.

“These new roles will provide nothing more than a glorified talking shop and it is absolutely clear that the leadership at County Hall has its head in the clouds when it comes to the real frontline provision of healthcare services that our residents actually need and deserve.”

But Liz Morgan, director of public health at Northumberland County Council, defended the roles as an effective means of improving health and wellbeing.

She said: “Although these posts will be employed through Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, they are funded by Northumberland County Council with public health grant.

“Public health grant is a central government allocation to local authorities to promote public health and conditions of the grant would not allow it to fund inpatient beds such as those at Rothbury Community Hospital.

“The posts are a pillar of county-wide plans to develop and embed community-centred approaches to improving health and wellbeing, and reducing inequalities.

“The post-holders will work within local communities to support and promote initiatives that help to create wellness – encouraging people and groups to initiate activities that support their health and wellbeing.

“This is a nationally recognised approach to improving health and care and there is increasing evidence that these alternative approaches not only represent a good return on investment, but that they will be vital in achieving sustainable health and care services for the future.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service