Back to where we started

It was heartening to see Eric McMekkin getting an award for keeping Berwick Infirmary's old heating system going through the Beast from the East after he travelled 15 miles by tractor, police car and 4x4 to get to the hospital, (Berwick Advertiser, October 25).

Friday, 2nd November 2018, 08:00 am

Such commitment is rightly to be highly commended.

But those challenging circumstances must remind us, too, of local patients who had to undertake equally, if not more, hazardous and much longer journeys to access hospital services further away; services which Berwick Infirmary once provided, but now does not.

Back in 1870, the town’s services couldn’t adequately provide for local healthcare needs. Patients had to travel to Edinburgh for treatment. They had no choice.

Now, it seems (if you substitute Newcastle for Edinburgh) you could say much the same. We’re back to where we were 150 years ago.

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Berwick Infirmary was the result then. It made an enormous difference.

A new hospital is on the cards now. What difference will it make? The answer, it appears, is none. It will deliver the same services we have now, with no substantial variation, i.e. further reduced, but judged not significantly so.

There are plenty of older, local folks, retired doctors and nurses included, who could give you a long list of everything that’s gradually gone from the infirmary over the years. All the stories being shared recently on social media show just how much we need a lot of that back.

The new hospital will be a stand-alone building. It will be on its own separate site. That’s been agreed. But the whole point of that was so that it could be big enough for all the services needed locally – not just now, but for the future as well.

I have been a committee member of Berwick Infirmary’s League of Friends for a number of years. I, like so many others, want to see the infirmary being used, or developed, solely and expressly for the good of the town and its people.

So I was pleased also to read in these pages last week that Berwick councillors have appealed to health chiefs to keep the current site in public ownership and to use it for community care.

However, the fact that those councillors feel the need to make such a public appeal concerns me.

Is there, then, a possibility that the site might end up in private ownership, being used for purposes that are not community based?

If so, then the authorities must surely realise that the people of Berwick will rightly expect them to guarantee that they profit as fully as possible, not only from the sale of the site, but also from any proposed development of it.

We wouldn’t want to see the site sold for a song and a developer pocket the proceeds. Every single penny of profit possible must be ploughed straight back into the town.

That way we could fund the care facilities and accommodation that would still have to be provided elsewhere in town.

The surplus, of course, could be added to the existing £25million currently available in order to ensure the new healthcare facility is indeed built big enough for all the future services we need.

That would give us a better hospital for Berwick.

Dorothy Wakenshaw

A Better Hospital For Berwick