'All options still on the table' for future of services at Rothbury hospital

There has been progress since this meeting before Christmas where campaigners were left disappointed by what was happening. Picture by Ben O'Connell
There has been progress since this meeting before Christmas where campaigners were left disappointed by what was happening. Picture by Ben O'Connell

Health bosses are on course to make a decision on the future of Rothbury’s hospital in the autumn, councillors were told this week.

Which services will be provided at Rothbury Community Hospital and how it will operate going forward is being looked at again, after the Health Secretary agreed that more work needed to be done locally on the next steps, following the permanent closure of the site’s 12 inpatient beds in 2017.

At Tuesday’s (June 4) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee, an update was given on how this work is progressing.

Siobhan Brown, chief operating officer of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which commissions services at the hospital, said: “We are on schedule to take proposals to the CCG governing body in the autumn of this year.

“We have learned a lot from the processes before, we are very, very focused on partnership working and have put as much rigour and independence into the process as possible.”

At the last committee meeting to discuss this issue, in January, residents and campaigners were warned that there would be no quick decision to allow for ‘meaningful community engagement’ to take place.

That special meeting took place to enable members to agree an interim response to the Health Secretary. This was because upon referring the matter back to the NHS in Northumberland last November, Secretary of State Matt Hancock called for an update on progress by the end of January.

It followed the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), a non-departmental public health body, concluding that there were flaws in the CCG’s engagement and consultation processes and that ‘further action locally is required to agree and implement the proposed health and wellbeing centre, potentially including inpatient beds, at Rothbury Community Hospital’.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the CCG’s senior head of commissioning, Rachel Mitcheson, explained that a Rothbury Engagement Group has been set up ‘to build a partnership between the people who use health services in Coquetdale and the agencies which buy and deliver those services’.

Made up of people from a range of different organisations, including the Save Rothbury Community Hospital (SRCH) campaign group, and led by an independent chairman, this group has met twice so far, with further work taking place behind the scenes.

PwC has been commissioned to carry out an independent review of the CCG’s data, with a report due back in July, while an independent consultant is to provide feedback on a clinical audit, a process which aims to improve patient care and outcomes.

Coun Trevor Cessford said: “I’m pleased this group has come together, I like the make-up of the group, however, there’s not a lot happening, it’s all organisational things.

“People want answers to their questions and the main one is about service models going forward.

“I would hate to see it just being something to pay lip service to what’s required.”

Ms Brown responded: “All options are still on the table. We could sit in a room and put forward proposals, but we don’t want to do that.

“We are on track, it does have teeth and it’s all very transparent.”

After the meeting, Katie Scott, SRCH coordinator, said that the campaigners did now feel that they were being listened to through the meetings of the engagement group.

Nonetheless, while progress is being made, the current timescale would mean that new proposals would come three years after the ward was first closed – temporarily at first, in September 2016.

The permanent closure was agreed 12 months later before the decision was referred to the Health Secretary in October 2017, with the wait for a response lasting another year.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service