A public consultation on the future of the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital should start in late January, healthcare commissioners in the county have confirmed today.
At the start of September, the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust dropped the bombshell that the 12-bed facility would be shut for three months, to be reviewed in November, due to an alleged fall in patient numbers. The news sparked uproar in the Coquetdale community.
All other services operating from the hospital have remained unaffected and all affected staff were found appropriate alternative work within the Trust.
Following a period of engagement, NHS Northumberland CCG held a public meeting in November to present the findings of its formal review into ‘the low use of inpatient services’ at the hospital.
The NHS says that figures show that over the previous year, average occupancy of the ward was around 50 per cent, with bed usage dropping as low as 35 per cent in July 2016. The NHS says that the decline in inpatient activity reflects the fact that more and more care is now being safely delivered outside of hospital and within the comfort of people’s own homes, particularly for older and more complex patients.
At last month’s public meeting, residents were told that the CCG would launch a formal consultation, if required, and that the temporary closure of the inpatient ward would be extended during this period.
And today it has been announced that the aim is to start the three-month consultation period in late January, with a series of opportunities to comment, including public meetings, online and printed surveys.
Dr Alistair Blair, chief clinical officer for the CCG, said: “We would like to thank everyone who took the time to attend the public meeting last month and the series of drop-in sessions.
“We recognise the high level of public interest in this issue, and with that in mind, we took the decision to delay the consultation slightly, to ensure we have sufficient time to consider properly all the comments we have received before deciding the scope of the consultation.
“We understand that the uncertainty is a concern, but the most important thing is to make sure that we get the best possible outcome for the people of Rothbury.
“As healthcare leaders, we have a duty to deliver not just the best quality of care but also to make the best use of the funding we have for NHS services in Northumberland.
“It is clear that people value the care they have received at Rothbury, and the compassion and high standards of the staff, very highly. With only around half of the beds used over the past year, we have to balance these factors against the need to ensure that our nursing staff can use their skills to help as many patients as possible.
“Inpatient activity at Rothbury has declined over recent years, because more care is being delivered outside of hospital, in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.
“We very much understand the concerns that people have raised and it is important that we now take time to consider them fully before putting forward proposals for the future. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely in the meantime.”
The initial suspension led to a petition, the formation of a campaign group and protests. Rothbury-born TV star Alexander Armstrong also hit out against the closure and backed the objectors, who said it would be a major blow to the community if the ward were to shut for good.
Earlier this month, campaigners met Dr Blair to present a proposal for ‘a new beginning’ at the site, with the aim of persuading the CCG to reopen the inpatient beds, but with a new focus to include social and palliative care.
○ Full details of the consultation on the inpatient beds will be published on local NHS websites as soon as it becomes available.