Berwick hospital campaigners demand delivery of services

Campaigners have called for Berwick's new hospital to have the same level of services as those included in a previous plan to redevelop the infirmary site.

Thursday, 6th September 2018, 11:24 am
Updated Monday, 10th September 2018, 08:45 am
Isabel Hunter addresses a public meeting organised by campaign group, A Better Hospital for Berwick.

At present there are fears the hospital proposed for the Swan Centre site will be little more than a health centre, with patients still faced with the prospect of a 120-mile round trip for many services.

Gordon McLean, of Berwick Deserves Better, said: “The priority has to be the delivery of services rather than getting weighed down in where the hospital is built. We desperately need a level of services to eliminate the stress and trauma of travelling all that distance.”

He was speaking at a packed public meeting in the Salvation Army hall on Wednesday evening at which more than 100 people attended to air their concerns about the proposal.

A £45million integrated development of health, social care and leisure is being proposed by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Northumberland County Council.

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They say that co-locating leisure and health services will make it much easier for nurses, therapists and doctors to link in with exercise facilities critical to healthy living.

Capital funding for the project is in place - an estimated £27million for the hospital/health services and £18million for a new leisure centre.

It would take seven years to complete. The proposal is to build a new leisure centre first on a different part of the site, followed by the hospital and related health and social care services.

However, strong concerns have been raised in the local community and a new group, A Better Hospital for Berwick, has been formed in response and it organised the meeting.

Kirsty Jamieson, one of its co-founders, said: “We have got the message out there and it’s starting to gain a bit more momentum.

“It’s important we stick together for our community to get something useful rather than spending all that money on something that isn’t wanted.”

The group now has 2,700 members and a poll asking people whether they wanted a joint hospital and leisure centre facility has produced a resounding ‘no’ with 872 people against and only 61 in favour.

A petition created by Coun Alex Gibson of Berwick Town Council is asking residents whether they would prefer a hospital to be built at the Swan Centre, Seton Hall or the existing Berwick Infirmary site.

So far, 270 have said they favour Seton Hall, with 70 for Berwick Infirmary and seven for the Swan Centre.

“We need to be positive and more demanding in what we ask for, not just sit back and take it,” he said.

In contrast, the CCG has previously said ‘the community very much identified the Swan Centre as their favoured option’ and that it was also the only site considered big enough and without major complications to deliver an integrated development.

Sites at Roberts Lodge and Newfields, together with Seton Hall and the infirmary site, had also been considered.

Jennifer McLean, of Berwick Deserves Better, criticised the ‘sham’ of the public engagement sessions held earlier this year.

“They’ve twisted people’s views to make them fit what they already had in mind,” she said. “It was a total sham. They’re just not listening.”

A recently retired nurse lamented the loss of services at the infirmary over the years and accused NHS managers of ‘manipulating the figures to what they want to see’.

Many of those at the public meeting also said they were unaware that the engagement sessions had taken place.

The CCG has said there would be no loss of services and a modern design would allow for more flexibility of use and enable better technology to be used.

However, there would be 16 inpatient beds, down from 20 in the current hospital, in response to dwindling demand, while the endoscopy service, suspended in 2017, will not be reintroduced due to superior offerings at Alnwick and Wansbeck.

The campaigners called for any new development to contain enough space to allow for the possible expansion of services in the future.

Deb Paget said: “If they build this new hospital, what happens in 20 years’ time if they need space to deliver a new service or treatment?”

John Bell called for more information to be made available on what is actually proposed so residents could make ‘informed choices rather than being led by reactionary emotions’.

Concerns were also raised about the loss of squash courts, a bowling green and a football pitch from the existing leisure centre offer to incorporate the proposed integrated plan.

Ex-mayor David McClymont said: “Building the sports facility first is putting the cart before the horse but you are actually getting a donkey.”

Michael Stewart also called for the hospital to be built first because it was the priority, pointing out that by the time it is built there will have been another general election and possibly a new administration at county level.

The proposal has already received approval by the health trust and CCG boards and will go before the county council’s cabinet on Monday, a meeting being held in the Swan Centre at 10am.

Residents plan to demonstrate their feelings with placards and banners outside the venue.

Those at the meeting discussed whether it would be possible to get the council to defer a decision for three months so a more informed decision could be made.

There was also a call for community leaders to get involved in the process.

On Tuesday, the council’s health and wellbeing committee agreed with health bosses that the new development would not represent a substantial change in healthcare services.

“That means they don’t have to carry out a 12 week consultation so we don’t have much time,” said Coun Karin Graham of Berwick Town Council.

Meanwhile, Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, writing in her weekly newsletter, said: “The new £25 million hospital programme will be built alongside a state-of-the-art leisure centre which the council are funding with £18-20million, to create a holistic provision to support health and wellbeing for residents.

“The new hospital which is being provided by the NHS will contain the same services at present and there are plans to introduce new services too. There are some local reaidents concerns about what this will all look like, and so I am continuing to listen and discuss with the various teams to ensure we get the best provision.”

The earlier plan for a new hospital at Berwick Infirmary promised to deliver all the services already provided including a 30-bed inpatient ward, outpatient clinics, a minor injuries unit, maternity services, diagnostics, physiotherapy, chemotherapy and day surgery/endoscopy.

It was also to accommodate Well Close Medical Group, paving the way for further integration between primary and secondary care, with community nurses also based on site.

Those plans were paused in August 2016 so health bosses could ensure they were fit for the future and focussed on keeping people healthy and well.