Labour and Conservative MPs write jointly to NHS boss over hospital concerns

Darlington Memorial Hospital.

Richmond’s Tory MP and Darlington’s Labour MP have jointly written to the boss of the NHS calling into the question the process of hospital reorganisation which will result in the downgrading of either Darlington Memorial or North Tees Hospitals.

Rishi Sunak and Darlington Labour MP Jenny Chapman have written to the CEO of NHS England to voice their concerns about the perceived bias of two key NHS managers involved in the shake-up.

In their letter to Mr Simon Stevens, Mr Sunak and Ms Chapman suggest that because the chair of the body carrying out the re-organisation and another key manager involved have longstanding links to one of the hospitals – North Tees – the process is perceived to be biased in favour of the Stockton hospital.

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The MPs say they have complete respect for the two officers’ professionalism but say it is vital the decision is seen to be impartial.

They have asked for the governance arrangements be changed to restore public confidence in the process.

Work on the reorganisation started last year and is being conducted by a Sustainability and Transformation Plan board covering the County Durham, Darlington, Teesside, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby areas.

The draft plan published late last year suggested that either Darlington Memorial or North Tees General would be downgraded and lose their consultant A&E and obstetric departments,

The chair of the STP Board, Alan Foster, is the longstanding chief executive of the North Tees NHS Foundation Trust which runs the North Tees hospital.

The STP’s key officer responsible for the work on acute hospital reconfiguration, Mrs Ali Wilson, is also chief officer of the North Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – the body which purchases health services in the area.

In addition Mrs Wilson is also interim chief officer of the Darlington CCG and will have influence over how the CCG’s vote is cast when the decision about the final version of the STP and the hospitals’ future is decided.

The MPs write: “So, the two people leading the STP process to decide which of two hospitals will be downgraded both have longstanding (over a decade) personal and professional links with one of the hospitals in question (North Tees). We are sure you can appreciate the concern this is rightly causing us and our constituents.”

The MPs say that given the sensitivity of the decision it is imperative that there is not even the perception of a conflict of interest or the feeling that the process is not 100 per cent objective. That, in turn, would undermine the public’s confidence in the STP process if it ultimately favoured the North Tees hospital.

The letter concludes: “It cannot be appropriate for these same people to be the ones in charge of the process to decide whether their hospital or another is downgraded. This just defies logic and does not pass the common sense test.”

The review is one of dozens of sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) being drawn up by health chiefs around the country.

NHS England asked commissioners and providers to work together to develop STPs as improvement plans for their area and to work with local authorities and other partners to deliver these.

In the draft STP for the southern County Durham, Darlington, Tees Valley and northern North Yorkshire areas the James Cook University Hospital at Middlesbrough would retain its status as the main regional hospital dealing with emergencies and trauma. Either Darlington or North Tees hospital would be the second emergency hospital for the region.

Mr Sunak said the Memorial, although outside his constituency, was used by many of his constituents, particularly in north Richmondshire and the Yorkshire Dales. Removal of emergency services from the Darlington hospital would mean unacceptable travel distances.

Ms Chapman has campaigned to protect the Memorial Hospital since rumours of the changes emerged last summer. She has been active in the Save our Services Darlington Memorial Hospital group and been critical of the way health chiefs have handled the review process.