Big turnout at hospital protest in Berwick
More than 200 people, many holding banners and placards, have staged a peaceful protest against a proposed integrated health and leisure development in Berwick.
The demonstration was held prior to a meeting of Northumberland County Council’s decision-making cabinet at the Swan Centre this morning.
The protest, organised by campaign group ‘A Better Hospital for Berwick’, was designed to show councillors the strength of feeling on the issue.
Many people are concerned that the proposed hospital will offer little more in the way of services than a health centre, with patients still faced with the prospect of a 120-mile round trip for many services.
At the meeting, Northumberland County Council’s cabinet agreed to move forward consideration of a replacement leisure centre within an integrated development of up to £50million.
Members agreed to increase the capital programme allocation for the leisure centre element to £20million, up from the £18million originally proposed, so it can incorporate adult and social care facilities.
They also agreed to delegate a decision to the chief executive and council leader on whether the leisure centre would be a standalone council project or whether it will work alongside Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust until the full business case is available.
However, many of those in attendance were disappointed at the lack of discussion about the hospital element of the proposal.
Dozens left when this became apparent and councillors were jeered and given a slow hand-clap.
Local resident Michael Stewart questioned how a decision could be made on the leisure centre when it forms part of an integrated development alongside the hospital and other health services.
Fellow resident Jim Herbert added: “We know what the town needs and it’s not necessarily what you are going to give us.”
Others tried to explain that they welcomed a redevelopment of the leisure centre but felt that the hospital and the services it provides should be the priority.
Council leader Peter Jackson did attempt to clarify from the start that the cabinet was meeting purely to decide on the leisure centre part of the plan, with the hospital plans to be decided by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust and Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group.
But he did add: “We have had discussions with the NHS Trust and have been given assurances that there will be no change in the current services and, in fact, some services will be significantly enhanced.
“There will be more outpatient provision and a wider range of diagnostic services so people from Berwick don’t have to do that long journey down the A1 as much as they do now.
“The health proposals are just an outline - as are those for the leisure centre - to start the process. We will be doing far more detailed consultations with the people of Berwick and the surrounding area.”
The council and NHS has previously stated 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.
The CCG has revealed there would be 16 inpatient beds, down from 20 in the current hospital, while the endoscopy service, suspended in 2017, will not be reintroduced due to superior offerings at Alnwick and Wansbeck.
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.
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.