Rothbury Community Hospital ward closure sparks community anger

Rothbury Community Hospital.
Rothbury Community Hospital.

Opposition is mounting to a controversial decision to close a village hospital’s inpatient ward for three months, due to a fall in patient numbers.

NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust announced on Friday that the 12-bed facility at Rothbury Community Hospital has shut temporarily and will be reviewed in November.

The Trust has discussed the issue with staff, who will be redeployed.

All other services that operate from the hospital will continue as normal, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, out-patient, child health clinics and community paramedic services.

However, the decision has sparked a critical response from members of the community. A Save Rothbury Cottage Hospital campaign page has been set up on Facebook and a petition has already been signed by hundreds of people.

Rothbury county councillor Steven Bridgett is ‘absolutely disgusted’ and said residents had not been consulted about the temporary closure. And a statement from The Rothbury Practice says the move will have ‘significant adverse consequences for our local population’ and the immediate effects will ‘mainly impact a frail and vulnerable group of patients’.

It comes after Harbottle Surgery, which is less than 10 miles away, was shut in August 2015. An interim arrangement – with services provided twice a week at Harbottle, plus five days a week at Rothbury – is currently in place. However, attempts to secure a full-time GP provider in Harbottle is not an option going forward.

A joint statement from the CCG and the Trust said: “No permanent decision has been taken about the future of inpatient services at Rothbury. No permanent decision will be made without full engagement with people living in the village and a robust public consultation process.

“The temporary decision to stop any new inpatient admissions, for a period of three months, has been taken in light of the continued extremely low use of the ward which, on average, saw only half of the 12 beds being occupied at any one time throughout the whole of last year – a figure which dropped as low as 35 per cent bed occupancy for the whole of July 2016.

“This 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. This is a trend we are seeing right across the NHS.

“During this temporary period, we will be working with all partners to discuss how we can ensure the future sustainability of local services in Rothbury and, crucially, where we can continue to innovate, keep pace with change and further transform the way we care for our patients. We will be keen to engage the public in this discussion and will share details as soon as possible as to how people can get involved. We will be working with patients and their families affected by this change in Rothbury to make appropriate arrangements.”

But the announcement has been meet with anger from the local community. Representatives from the Save Rothbury Cottage Hospital campaign group have held its first action meeting. Moves include sending off Freedom of Information requests to obtain facts around the closure and arranging a public meeting. A petition has also been set up.

A statement on the campaign page – liked by more than 780 people – reads: ‘We have received many stories about the hospital; all positive, some incredibly moving. These anecdotes will help us make our arguments.

‘We feel very confident that with this amount of interest and passion, we can do a really good campaign to get this disgraceful decision overturned.’

Responding on the page to the news, critics have labelled the temporary closure as a disaster and said the facility is invaluable to the community.

Coun Bridgett has also issued a scathing response. He said: “I am absolutely disgusted to learn about this. I am told that it will only be temporary, but if you want to see what temporary looks like, just have a look at Harbottle Surgery.

“The NHS has clearly learned nothing about consultation from the totally appalling way it handled the removal of minor injuries from the hospital a few years ago and the way it handled Harbottle.

“They have demonstrated their contempt for the residents of this area by failing to consult residents once again.

“They must also take us for fools if they expect us to believe that this closure is only for a three-month period – we learned not to believe anything they had to say when they shut Harbottle Surgery.

“It begs a further question. Having lost Harbottle Surgery and now we are on the brink of losing Rothbury Community Hospital, are our community healthcare services safe in the hands of this Government? All this indicates they are not.”

Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan will keep in close contact with the Trust and CCG. She also wants to hear from people about why they are choosing not to use Rothbury for inpatient care.