ROTHBURY WARD CLOSURE: Views from the campaigners and the NHS

Rothbury Community Hospital.
Rothbury Community Hospital.

The community in Coquetdale was rocked last month when the temporary closure of the inpatient ward at the hospital in Rothbury was announced.

NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust insists that the closure is temporary and no decision on the permanent future has been taken.

Rothbury Community Hospital

Rothbury Community Hospital

However, it has caused alarm among residents and a campaign group and petition has been set up.

Opposite, the co-ordinator of the Save Rothbury Hospital group sets out why the hospital and inpatient ward mean so much to the community, while a representative of the CCG explains why the temporary closure took place and what will happen next.

‘Coquetdale residents deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness’

by Katie Scott, co-ordinator, Save Rothbury Hospital Campaign –
On Friday, September 2, Rothbury Community Hospital sent home the patients and closed the doors of the ward. No one was told this was to happen. Not the staff, not anyone. Jan, who lives overseas, told us how the closure affected her father.

“He was discharged from Wansbeck on September 8, too quick in my opinion. Since then, he has been alone at home because my mother had to go into respite care as she has dementia.

“Someone from the Short Term Support Service visits him each morning and evening. My father is still unwell, and is becoming depressed. Having pneumonia at his age can take a long time to recover from. I believe that if he had been able to convalesce at Rothbury Hospital, he would have recovered much quicker. He would have benefitted from the constant care and companionship it offered.”

We are told that our hospital might be put to better use. It could be a fantastic health hub with outpatient clinics. That is great! However, please do not take away our inpatient beds! These are crucial. We need them for three main purposes: Palliative care; respite care; and rehabilitation.

The community of Coquetdale has around 600 people aged 75 and older.

Does Northumbria Healthcare Trust and the Clinical Commissioning Group really feel it is appropriate for ALL elderly patients, admitted to Ashington or Cramlington, to be sent home to recuperate?

What about the 200-plus elderly people who live alone? What about our residents who have not long left to live? Will they have to spend their last days and hours far from home in a hospital that is a 50-mile round trip to get to?

Remember, our public transport has been cut too, so loved ones cannot easily visit. Have the NHT and CCG really got no heart? Does compassion simply not come into their decisions?

We understand financial restraints, but is sending frail, vulnerable people home to an empty house, with care staff ‘popping in’ really the best option? What is the saving, really? Is it worth it? We surely should at least be consulted on their plans?

Save Rothbury Hospital believes that Coquetdale residents, who fought to have our hospital built just nine years ago, deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness.

Save Rothbury Hospital has received many examples of the considerate and compassionate care received by patients in our hospital. Care which has meant the difference between a lonely death in an anonymous hospital, as opposed to a dignified passing, nursed in their beloved Coquetdale, with the comforting view of the Simonside Hills, and loved ones easily able to be with them.

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‘We need to explain wider context and impact on county’s whole health system’

by David Evans, chief executive at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and Dr Alistair Blair, chief officer at NHS Northumberland CCG

Last week, we held the first of three engagement sessions in Rothbury, talking to local people about the reasons behind the temporary suspension of inpatient services.

The event was well attended and we would like to thank all those who came along to talk to us – your input was much valued and your views and feedback will be included in the review which is currently under way and led by NHS Northumberland CCG.

We heard some key themes coming through in the discussions, not least how much people value the care they have received in Rothbury and the very high standards and compassion experienced by patients from the staff looking after them. We also heard some key concerns from the local community about what support is in place for vulnerable elderly people and their carers, particularly when they are recovering from a hospital stay.

During last week’s event, people were also very keen to understand why the decision to temporarily suspend inpatient admissions was taken so quickly and what the next steps are. We have spoken a lot about the bed occupancy rates at Rothbury which have been very low for some time – on average only 50 per cent full over the past two years – but we also need to better explain the wider context of this and the impact this has for the whole health system in Northumberland.

As healthcare leaders, one of our duties is to ensure that we continually review services and, in doing so, make sure we deliver the very best quality of care for patients and make the very best use of taxpayers’ money and our finite resources.  

The NHS across the whole of England is experiencing very big workforce challenges and Northumberland is by no means immune to this. When we have a ward that is so underused, like we have in Rothbury, we have to think about the staffing that goes with that – the two things are intrinsically linked.

Sometimes this means making quick operational decisions so that we can redeploy staff to meet demand and use the skills and expertise of our teams to best effect to help deal with other big pressure points elsewhere in Northumberland. This type of situation is not unusual in the NHS, but as this is the only inpatient ward in Rothbury, we completely understand the heightened awareness.

We should also emphasise that the reduction in inpatient activity and less people being in hospital overnight should be viewed positively – it 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.