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Senior county councillors will next week be warned that the Friarage Hospital’s A&E department is facing “closure by stealth” amid fresh concerns about the level of services offered at the hospital now and in the future.
A three-month trial is currently underway at the Northallerton hospital, with GPs, nurses and paramedics rather than consultants providing urgent care out-of-hours in the A&E department.
NHS chiefs say the current Friarage A&E model is not sustainable due to a shortage of A&E doctors and emergency nurses, and challenges of a rural population.
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Officials at Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Care Commission Group, which is behind the changes, said the new clinical model aims to “integrate primary care, ambulance services and hospital-based services to improve the quality and resilience of urgent and emergency services”.
Patients are assessed when they enter the hospital with the more serious cases transferred to James Cook Hospital at Middlesbrough.
The “proof of concept” phase to test the new model started on 20 March and will run until the end of June.
Documents seen by Richmondshire Today state that patients attending the Friarage with minor trauma injuries could end up being transferred to James Cook if nobody is available to carry out an X-ray.
With no consultants on hand out-of-hours, GPs and other medical staff are told to ring James Cook to speak to an A&E doctor for advice if required.
Upper Dales county councillor John Blackie will urge members of the authority’s Richmondshire area committee to debate the future of the hospital at a meeting on Wednesday, June 14 at Richmondshire Cricket Club.
He will call on colleagues on the committee to highlight the concerns of residents to NHS officials and to take a lead role in opposing any future threats to the service.
He claimed it had become apparent that a number of healthcare services currently based at the Friarage Hospital were under threat of total withdrawal or significant cutbacks.
Speaking about the changes to the A&E unit, he said: “Worryingly there has not been any form of public consultation by the HRW CCG or the South Tees Trust on these proposals.
“Instead it has been highly skilled medical practitioners working within the local NHS, sometimes anonymously, who have had to raise concerns about the future of these services at the Friarage.”
The councillor said a senior healthcare professional was so worried about the changes that they had passed him documents about the new system at the Friarage that staff had been told not to make public.
Commenting on the documents, the healthcare worker said: “This is closure of an A&E department by stealth and trying to circumvent the normal public consultation process.”
Cllr Blackie said the documents revealed that there was now just one GP providing A&E care at night for the hospital which serves a large area of North Yorkshire stretching from Hawes to Stokesley.
He added: “The 79 page document also makes clear there will be increased emergency ambulance activity between the Friarage and the James Cook, and as there has been no proposal to increase the number of emergency ambulances and front line paramedic and practitioner staff, this results in ambulances taking at least 1.5 hours or more to return to their base stations in Richmondshire.”
Cllr Blackie pointed out that the documents also do not mention A&E services at Darlington Memorial Hospital, which are currently the subject of review as par of the Better Health Programme.
The concerns come just a week after a North Yorkshire GP also raised concerns about the level of service the Friarage will offer in the future.
Northallerton GP Dr Duncan Rogers said a shortage of anaesthetics at the Friarage could mean it will be unable to accept serious medical admissions and will have to reduce the type of surgery it can offer.
Speaking ahead of next week’s meeting, Cllr Blackie added: “I hope my report, the events it covers, and the commentary will promote a robust debate on the future of NHS healthcare services serving the district.”
Janet Probert, chief officer of NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (the CCG) said: “A “proof of concept” phase to test a model of urgent and emergency care at the Friarage Hospital has been underway since March 2017 and is subject to ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
“More information can be found on the CCG’s website: www.hambletonrichmondshireandwhitbyccg.nhs.uk/urgent-and-emergency-care
“No other changes have been made to services at the Friarage Hospital. The CCG has always been open and transparent on significant service change through appropriate engagement and consultation with the public.
“We have a legal duty under the NHS Constitution to commission high quality, safe services and will undertake formal consultation if significant service change is required.”
Rishi Sunak, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Richmond, said he was monitoring the situation closely and talking to local doctors about the Friarage Hospital.
“The new model of care has been running since March and I will be interested in the evaluation of the trial.