A hospital boss has warned of the pressures staff are facing maintaining services as it draws up plans for what it will be able to provide in future.
Adrian Clements, medical director at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, said when South Tees NHS Trust launched the review due to staffing shortages at the infirmary it had given a commitment that all its services would be maintained as they stood throughout the process.
Mr Clements told North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee he appreciated residents were anxious to learn about proposed changes to services, but due to his determination to come up with the best safe, high quality and sustainable offer, the process had suffered some delays.
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He said the trust was still preparing options on the services which could be run at the hospital in future, and hoped to start finalising them with Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG) by mid-April.
The options will then be examined by NHS bodies, which if approved, would then proceed to public consultation, ahead of a final decision being made.
The CCG’s chief officer Janet Probert said she thought it most likely a finalised set of options on the hospital’s future would now not be published for a public consultation before the autumn.
She told the meeting: “The biggest issue that led to this is sustaining the workforce at the Friarage. So no one is going to stop working as hard as they can on this because there are real challenges on maintaining some services now.”
Mr Clements said maintaining all the services at the hospital until an option was agreed would be “a challenge”.
He said: “I have been having some meetings with colleagues this week to ensure – because there has been some slippage in the timelines – we can maintain services.
“I have been receiving reassurances that as we stand we can, but that can be a daily, weekly or monthly issue. It is challenging to those clinicians who all accepted at the start of this process that the status quo is unsustainable, and as that status quo continues it really is a challenge to people.
“That really is a pressure on the trust to ensure that we aren’t backing off this process because we know there’s a requirement to come to an end state, but that end state has to be robust in itself.”
Mr Clements told members preparing the options had proved a complicated process.
He said: “I will put my hand up now and accept blame for any delays that are taking place – we cannot move forward with those clinical scenarios unless we are happy they are robust.
“There’s no point in moving forward unless we are happy it is the best possible offer for the people of North Yorkshire. The offer has to be built up on the fact that it is safe, very high quality and sustainable.
“If that delays things by a few months that gives us a problem because obviously that means we require to maintain services through that process, but that is the right answer.”
“I know people are anxious as to what those scenarios might be, it’s not as though the trust is sitting doing nothing. We are working very hard.”
The warning over how stretched some services at the hospital have become comes just weeks after the trust published a report detailing the findings of an 11-week public engagement programme, which set out some of the key challenges facing the Friarage.
They include recruitment difficulties and changes to medical training that are impacting on some key service areas such as critical care, overnight anaesthetic cover and accident and emergency.
The trust said the programme revealed while residents wanted as many services as possible available locally, the majority agreed that quality of care and safety was a top priority.