Senior councillor’s frustration over hospital services uncertainty

The Friarage Hospital.

The leader of an influential health watchdog has spoken of his frustration over the cloud of uncertainty that continues to hang over hospital services across the Tees Valley and parts of North Yorkshire and County Durham.

Councillor Jim Clark, chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee, said it appeared a row between hospital consultants and NHS officials had over staffing created a fresh impasse, years after proposals to make major changes in the region were first revealed.

He said while residents would have a keen interest on how services were reconfigured, but uncertainty had been heightened by NHS bosses announcing a consultation to changes to emergency medicine and anaesthesia at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, would be delayed until after the local elections in May.

The NHS initially announced to councillors in January that key services such as accident and emergency would be retained for the foreseeable future at three general hospitals serving the region, ending years of uncertainty.

Despite appeals for updates from leading councillors, it took more than four months for the NHS to confirm proposals to set up two specialist emergency hospitals – The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, and either the Darlington Memorial Hospital or North Tees Hospital, in Stockton – had been dropped.

In May, Alan Foster, sustainability and transformation partnerships lead for the North East and North Cumbria, said clinicians were “working across organisational boundaries to build consensus on the right models of hospital, community and primary care” and to support local specialist emergency care where possible.

He said: “There is very much an intention to share this thinking as it develops and they will continue engaging with local authorities, elected members, Healthwatch, community and voluntary organisations, patients and the wider public to explain the need for services to adapt and change and to seek their views.”

Cllr Clark said despite the pledge to keep people informed, there had effectively been silence about the future of key services for many hundreds of thousands of people for 11 months.

He said his main concerns included the staffing of services, the safety of which could be compromised if swift action was not taken.

The retired accountant, who has led the watchdog for nine years, said: “The NHS has spent forever and a day engaging with people. There have been numerous public meetings on Better Health in Hawes, Newton Aycliffe and Hartlepool and all over the place, but they are not able to make a decision.

“We really need to know what is going on, what the administrators are pushing for and what the consultants want. It is very frustrating having to wait.

“I think it’s important that we start making progress on what sort of hospital services we will be getting. We have had an assurance from the new integrated care system that three hospitals will serve the northern part of North Yorkshire – Darlington Memorial, James Cook and the Friarage. How we reconfigure the services will be a matter of interest and debate to the people, but it is very important there is no major change on the downside to any of these hospitals.

“I see an interesting future for the Friarage, I would just like to know what it is. There seems to be a debate going on between those that manage the James Cook and the integrated care system and the consultants. Until they resolve the problems internally at the NHS it is very difficult for us to comment.”

A meeting of the council’s Richmond constituency committee was told while it was highly likely the type of services offered at the Friarage would change, the James Cook University Hospital could not continue absorbing services indefinitely and some services would be transferred to the Friarage.

Members heard the prevailing model of care was to send patients to specialist treatment centres before being handed back to local areas.

Councillors expressed support for developing the Friarage as a teaching hospital to protect services.

A spokeswoman for the NHS North of England Commissioning Support Unit said she was unable to offer an immediate response.

2 Comments

  1. This is a very worrying situation for Richmondshire. I hope Councillor Clark will keep up the campaign for services to be retained at the Friarage and let the public know if they can help in any way.

  2. With all the house building in the area and the suppose military contact to the frirage from the closure of the dutchess of Kent at catterick.
    Surely military drs should be in the frirage also York university is in the frirage or was so it’s already a teaching hospital.
    What might be better all around is a new hospital with helicopter pads and closer to north side for the new road going in and if close enough to the rail line also a station and move ambulance station onto it to and make the hospital a proper university aswell then maybe we can all be happy and safer.

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