Public engagement to come on next steps for Rothbury hospital

Campaigners at the first meeting of the Northumberland County Council working group.
Campaigners at the first meeting of the Northumberland County Council working group.

Public engagement on the future of Rothbury Community Hospital will start in January, health bosses have said.

Residents and campaigners were furious after the Northumberland County Council group set up to review the next steps for the hospital held a brief and largely administrative meeting in December, following the previous month’s response from the Government on the closure of the facility’s inpatient ward.

The group features five councillors from the authority’s health and wellbeing committee as well as a representative of Healthwatch Northumberland, but there are major concerns from locals as to how their voices will be heard.

At the latest meeting of the governing body of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which commissions the services at the hospital, it was confirmed that work is now under way to develop options through an operational group that will report back to the council’s group.

And the CCG’s chief operating officer, Siobhan Brown, said that public engagement will start at the beginning of January.

She added that while the Health Secretary wants an update on progress by the end of January, this is being looked at as a ‘medium-term but not endless’ piece of work.

Accountable officer Vanessa Bainbridge added: “We were asked in the report to look again at the previous data, but also look at data for the intervening period. We can start engagement early, but we must look at that data.

“We have requested that from the trust (provider Northumbria Healthcare) and others, so once we have that we can draw up plans and test those with the scrutiny panel. We will be publishing an engagement programme in the new year.”

The 12-bed inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital was closed – temporarily at first, it was claimed – in September 2016 due to low usage, sparking a community campaign to save it.

Twelve months on, the board of the CCG voted unanimously to close the ward permanently and reshape the existing services around a health and wellbeing centre at the hospital.

But in October last year, the council’s health and wellbeing committee decided to refer the decision to the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In May this year, the matter was referred by Mr Hunt to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), a non-departmental public health body, which issued its response in November.

The IRP concluded 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’.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service