The 12-bed inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital was closed – temporarily at first, it was claimed – in September 2016 due to low usage, but to the dismay of the community, who opposed it vociferously.
Twelve months on, the board of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (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, Northumberland County 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 has now issued its response.
The IRP concludes that there were flaws in the engagement and consultation processes that were undertaken by the CCG 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’.
The panel has provided advice over what needs to be done next, which has been accepted by the new Secretary of State, Matt Hancock.
Coun Steven Bridgett, the ward member for Rothbury, described it as ‘not the best of responses but definitely a ray of light’.
He added that, due to the consultation being flawed, the community may also have grounds for a judicial review, particularly if the CCG does not engage meaningfully with residents on the potential of having the beds as part of the proposed health and wellbeing centre.
A spokeswoman for the CCG said: “We have received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health with the advice of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel concerning the proposed changes to Rothbury Community Hospital.
“Having considered the IRP’s advice, the Secretary of State has notified us that further action is required.
“The CCG now needs to consider this advice and hold discussions with Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust over the coming weeks. In the meantime, the inpatient ward will remain closed until further notice.
“Details on the way forward will be shared as soon as they are available.”
Coun Jeff Watson, chairman of the council’s health and wellbeing committee, said: “We welcome the response from the Secretary of State.
“However, the official response letter has as yet not been received by me and we have only today been informed by email of its contents.
“An action plan is being considered and the committee looks forward to working closely with the local community and the CCG to develop proposals for Rothbury Community Hospital over the coming months.”
Coun Veronica Jones, cabinet member for adult wellbeing and health, added: “In a rural community, it’s very important the right services are in place and we’ll endeavour to ensure this happens in Rothbury.”
According to the IRP, the next steps should include:
The CCG and NHS trust in collaboration with the council’s health and wellbeing committee and local community should concentrate their efforts in refining the current ‘possible’ and ‘probable’ lists of services into something more tangible;
The CCG and committee should jointly undertake an appropriate assessment to examine the impact of additional travel, costs and inconveniences for families and carers of those affected. Given how long the inpatient ward has been closed, there should be ample evidence now to enable a firm conclusion to be reached;
The CCG and committee should focus on those most affected, to consider the impact on families and carers of travelling further afield and to engage fully with the community as the health and well-being centre is developed. Consideration of the option of reopening the inpatient ward must form part of this work.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service