WATCH: Berwick hospital - your questions answered

Dr Colin Doig with a patient.
Dr Colin Doig with a patient.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has released a Q&A video about Berwick's proposed new hospital.

The video features Dr Colin Doig, the trust's consultant cardiologist and medical director.

Q. What is the plan for the new Berwick Infirmary?

A. The plan for the new Berwick Infirmary is to build a new hospital providing all the existing facilities on a new site.

Q. What are the benefits of health and leisure services working more closely together?

A. As we've heard a lot in the news over the course of the last 10 or so years, there is an obesity epidemic, there is a crisis in the number of patients with Type 2 diabetes, we continue to see a significant number of patients with cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease and a variety of other conditions. We know that exercise and, in general, good wellness is associated i) with a reduction in the number of cases that present, ie it stops cases happening; and, ii) in those patients which have long-term conditions it slows down the progression of those particular diseases. It is a win-win situation.

Q. Is it really just about reducing the cost of the new hospital?

A. There is no plan whatsoever to reduce the health spend for Berwick. What was already committed and has been committed for several years will be honoured and will be spent on health care.

Q. Why can't a standalone hospital be built on the current site?

A. If we were to use the existing site the facilities just would not allow for a new hospital to be built on site. This is a wonderful opportunity to try something that is new, forward looking and is entirely consistent with the direction of travel that the health service, health care and wellness agenda is going in. The vast majority of what we used to do in hospital 20-30 years ago is no longer delivered in the same hospital environment as it was. There is every expectation as we move into the future we will continue to see hospitals as a hospital resource but used in a different way from the traditional model and that is all to the good of the local population.

Q. Once the new hospital is open, what will happen to the old site?

A. It's too early to say at this stage but we are actively looking at the possibility of social housing, sustained living, that sort of thing which will be of significant additional benefit to the local community.

Q. What services will be at the new hospital?

A. All services that are currently delivered at Berwick Infirmary will continue to be delivered in the new facility. There will be no change to that.

Q. Will any services return or new ones be added?

A. If it is appropriate for a number of services to be expanded and to be developed then it would be entirely fine for those services to return. It will depend very much on the direction of travel of particular services. We know, for example, that virtual clinics are increasingly happening, we are not asking patients to travel as much as we used to to come to clinic, we are doing things far more frequently in a virtual way. That is likely to be a significant way forward, particularly for people who are living somewhat remote to traditional healthcare facilities. We know that there is a major agenda to try to develop facilities closer to patients' home. Patients are asking to be looked after as closely as possible to their families, to their friends, to their home environment and we want to try to work with the local community to deliver that.

Q. What about endoscopy?

A. When we had endoscopy at Berwick in the past, what was required was for patients to undergo one procedure and then a number of patients had to travel elsewhere to have a second procedure. By having patients travel for their first procedure, to either Alnwick or to Wansbeck, we are able to ensure they undergo only one procedure. That is safer for those patients and it means that we are able to protect the entire patient journey and make sure the quality control is in place to make sure the whole system is as safe and efficient as possible.

Q. Is pre-operative assessment part of the plans?

A. It very much is a big part of the plan for the future. Pre-operative assessment is very important. We recognise that if often doesn't take terribly long and can be frustrating. We will do as much of that locally as we possibly can.

Q. The plan is for 16 beds - why?

A. The number of beds has been reduced in line with the modelling and the utilage seen over the course of the last few years. Increasingly we are asked to send people home sooner and the length of stay has dramatically fallen as social care and other services out in the community are developed. We are increasingly doing work in the community rather than doing them in the hospital so the modelling suggests the number of beds is correct. We will continue to review that depending on how the beds are used.

Q. Is it really better for patients to be treated in their own home?

A. By and large it is better for patients to be treated at home unless there is no alternative, in which case having them in hospital for a shorter period of time would be the appropriate option. But by and large we are encouraged to discharge patients to their own home as quickly and effectively as possible and we will continue to do that.

Q. Why can't Berwick have a full A&E?

A. The issue of an A&E, I think, was resolved many years ago that the number of patients required and the experience of the individuals needed to deliver that care are such that it is simply not possible, it is not safe to deliver traditional A&E services in anything other than a relatively small number of sites within a particular region. We have seen this increasingly across the world, not just in A&E but also in the deliver of a whole range of specific services: cardiological services, cancer services, stroke services. It is entirely appropriate that these specialist services are protected and resourced adequately to ensure that the healthiest possible benefits for the population are delivered.

Q. Will there be enough ambulances?

A. We will continue to work very closely with the local ambulance service. With regards to access to care, it is clear that the sooner we can get patients to the appropriate medical and surgical care, that is what is of primary importance. There are already existing arrangement that if patients should be transferred elsewhere then the ambulance service would make that particular decision on receipt or on arrival at that particular patient's house.

Q. We're very remote and not everyone has a car - how will we get to other sites?

A. There has been a long-standing arrangement to transfer patients and relatives from Berwick to other sites within our organisation. That will continue; please call the infirmary and we will organise transport for you. We will also increasingly be working with the people of Berwick and the region to try to ensure that unnecessary hospital appointments or clinic visits are not taking place and if we can perform clinics in the area, either in person with a consultant or nurse specialist or in a virtual clinic then we will continue to develop those facilities.

Q. Will the new hospital have a GP practice on site?

A. The ambition is still to host a General Practice on site as part of the overall development. There are strong advantages to be gained within healthcare for having a General Practice linked directly to a hospital and we are very keen to continue to explore that particular option.

Still have questions?

Come to a drop-in session at the Swan Centre on Thursday, September 27 from 10am to 1pm. NHS and council staff will be on hand to answer questions and hear your views.