NHS bosses launch debate on staffing problems at Friarage Hospital

Health chiefs say emergency care services at the Friarage Hospital are becoming unsustainable because of problems recruiting doctors.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Friarage, has announced plans today to launch a major consultation exercise to discuss the Northallerton hospital’s future.

The trust said that since 2002, the Friarage Hospital has been – and continued to be – an essential part of its organisation and an important point of delivery for the community.

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It is one of the smallest district general hospitals in the country and has 189 inpatient beds, it added.

Over £40million has been invested in the Friarage estate over the 15 years with support from the Trust, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG and the Friends of the Friarage.

The trust said in a statement: “More recent developments such as introducing lung cancer surgery on site, the opening of our MRI Scanner and work beginning on The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, reflect our commitment to delivering safe and sustainable services to the people of Hambleton, Richmondshire, Whitby and the surrounding area from our Northallerton site.

“Being one of the smallest hospitals in the country, the Friarage has had to adapt and change its service delivery models over time as more specialist services move to the larger, tertiary sites and have therefore needed to be innovative in both service redesign and the attraction and retention of the clinical workforce.”

It added that it currently had “workforce challenges” that were starting to impact on a number of key services including accident and emergency, critical care and anaesthetics cover overnight.

Announcing the launch of a consultation exercise, it added: “We would like to now involve as many people as possible in the community we serve to join us in a discussion about the current challenges we face with a view to working together to develop a long term sustainable future for the Friarage.”

The first consultation event took place in Northallerton with more planned.

Richmond MP Rishi Sunak has urged his constituents to join the conversation about the future of emergency care services at the hospital.

The MP, whose constituency covers the area served by the Northallerton hospital, says if people care about their local hospital they must get involved in an engagement exercise carried out by NHS managers which could lead to changes in the way A&E, 24/7 anaesthetic cover, critical care and acute medicine services are delivered.

Health chiefs say these services are becoming clinically unsustainable because of difficulties recruiting doctors and that changes will have to be made.

Upper Dales county councillor John Blackie, who has campaigned to services at the Frirage, said there had been growing concern recently about the provision of immediate, urgent, unplanned and emergency care at the hospital, with one anonymous source passing him details of the staff crisis.

“This has been going on for several months, yet they all denied there was a problem and now there’s going to be a consultation.

“This appears to spell the end of the Fiarage as a district hospital because while its a wonderful hospital it does need those immediate, urgent, unplanned and emergency services. Without those services it would not be the Friarage Hospital, it would be the Friarage Clinic.”

“Those services are desperately needed in the huge rural hinterland that the Friarage serves.”

Mr Sunak said he had been in contact with senior managers at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust throughout the summer following a meeting he arranged with the hospital’s doctors, nurses and other staff. 

Mr Sunak’s meeting following staff briefings held by South Tees which highlighted the doctor recruitment crisis. Doctors told him the problems finding anaesthetists to cover the Friarage 24/7 threatened to undermine its ability to provide emergency care and surgery 

He said: “I urge everyone who cares about the Friarage and good access to local hospital services to get involved and make their views known. 

“I understand some people’s cynicism about engagement or consultation exercises in the light of past experiences but that will not help those of us who are fighting to maintain a good range of services at the Friarage.” 

“What is potentially at stake here is the core service offered by the Friarage and whether it includes emergency care and surgery – for which 24/7 anaesthetic cover is essential – as opposed to planned procedures and elective surgery – like hip and knee replacements. 

“My view is, and always has been, that the rurality of this area and the distances involved mean that we have to preserve emergency care services at the Friarage. Exactly what form those services take will be explored during this coming process.” 

These are the engagement events planned:

Monday 9 October Northallerton Town Hall 6pm – 8pm High Street, Northallerton,  DL7 8QR
Monday 16 October Fountain Hotel, Hawes 6pm – 8pm Market Place, Hawes, DL8 3RD
Saturday 21 October Richmond Town Hall


1.30pm – 3.30pm 41 Market Place, Richmond,

DL10 4QL

Monday 6 November Catterick Leisure Centre 6pm – 8pm Gough Rd, Catterick Garrison, DL9 3EL
Wednesday 8 November Stokesley Town Hall 4pm – 6pm Market Place, Stokesley,


Thursday 9 November Northallerton Town Hall 6pm – 8pm High Street, Northallerton,  DL7 8QR
Monday 13 November Old Leyburn School, Arts and Community Centre 6pm – 8pm Richmond Road, Leyburn, DL8 5DL
Wednesday 15 November Golden Fleece Hotel, Thirsk 4pm – 6pm Market Place, Thirsk YO7 1LL
Tuesday 21 November Bedale Hall, Bedale 6pm – 8pm North End
Saturday 2 December Town Hall, Masham Noon – 2pm Market Place, Masham, HG4 4DY
Thursday 14 December Northallerton Town Hall 4pm – 6pm High Street, Northallerton,  DL7 8QR
For more details on the consultation click here.