County councillors will agree an interim response to the Health Secretary on the future of Rothbury Community Hospital in two weeks’ time.
Upon announcing in November that more work needed to be done locally on the next steps, following the closure of the site’s 12 inpatient beds, Secretary of State Matt Hancock called for an update on progress by the end of this month.
A special meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee will take place on Wednesday, January 23, to discuss responses from health bosses to a number of review areas and questions, which were given to them at a very brief working-group meeting last month.
But this will by no means be the end of the process, with NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) chief operating officer, Siobhan Brown, describing it before Christmas as a ‘medium-term but not endless’ piece of work, with an engagement programme to be published shortly.
At the December meeting of the CCG’s governing body, 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.”
Residents and campaigners were furious after the largely administrative working-group meeting in December and have major concerns as to how their voices will be heard.
The 12-bed inpatient ward at the 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