Rothbury Hospital proposals came after health chiefs 'accepted they must try harder for rural communities'
New proposals for the future of a much-loved Northumberland hospital came on the back of an NHS trust ‘accepting it had to try much harder in our rural communities’.
This admission came as Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, briefed the county council’s health and wellbeing committee on the next steps for Rothbury Community Hospital on September 3.
As revealed last week, the trust is planning to introduce a ‘new and innovative’ model of care with increased outpatient clinics, additional clinical and day-care services and, perhaps most importantly, a flexible bed approach.
This followed the trust and NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) looking again at the future of the facility, after the Health Secretary ordered that more work needed to be done locally on the next steps in the wake of the permanent closure of the site’s 12-bed inpatient ward in 2017, one year after a temporary shut-down came into force.
In his presentation, Sir James fleshed out some of the proposals, but said that there were a number of issues to iron out ahead of the target introduction of the new model in April next year.
“We are taking risks, but when we sign off we need to know that it’s essentially bombproof,” he said. “We are confident that we going to be able to pull this off.”
Most, if not all, of the councillors were concerned about the recruitment of staff to this new team, which would support patients both in the community and the hospital.
Sir James conceded that staffing a small ward would not be possible, but said this new, innovative model should be more attractive and that the committee would get an update in December or January once the trust has tested the market.
Asked about a plan B by Coun Trevor Cessford, Sir James said that there is one but he did not want to discuss it, adding that when there’s too much talk about a plan B, it becomes plan A.
Nervous about the tight time-scale, Coun Robbie Moore asked whether the trust had looked at what other NHS organisations in rural areas have done in similar situations. Sir James responded to say that, frankly, most have simply closed community hospitals due to financial pressures and residents have to travel to the main sites.
Following the committee’s questions, Rothbury ward member, Coun Steven Bridgett, said: “We think we are heading towards what is a pragmatic solution for the people of Coquetdale and the three valleys, but we would actively encourage this committee to keep a watching brief.”
Katie Scott, coordinator of the Save Rothbury Community Hospital campaign group, added: “I am saddened by the many cases of hardship we have heard over the last three years the ward has been closed. I am distressed for each death that should have happened peacefully in the ward.
“But we have vowed not to look back in anger, but to look forward with positivity.
“Therefore, we are delighted to hear the detail about the new clinics and services that are planned and we are very hopeful indeed to hear about the development of the flexible beds model.
“We have known and demonstrated time and again that beds are necessary in our very rural community.”
The members of the committee unanimously backed the trust’s proposals and accepted that the directions of the Secretary of State and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) – a non-departmental public health body which concluded that there were flaws in the CCG’s engagement and consultation processes – have been met.
In line with a call from Coun Bridgett, the councillors also agreed that this was not a substantial change that requires consultation, as residents ‘want the CCG and trust to focus on trying to make this model work’.
After the meeting, the committee chairman, Coun Jeff Watson, said: “An incredible amount of work has gone into developing these proposals and I commend all those involved in getting to this point.
“This is a great example of what can be achieved by working together to meet the needs of the people of Rothbury.
“Information received so far demonstrates that due consideration has been given to the conditions set out by the Secretary of State.
“Further work now needs to be undertaken to clarify how the proposed model would work in practice and what resources would be required to deliver this to ensure a sustainable future for Rothbury Community Hospital.”