Get it up and running now

Last week I attended a public meeting about the future of a hospital for Berwick. The Clinical Commissioning Group of NHS Northumberland and Northumberland County Council were present to answer questions from the public.

Friday, 11th May 2018, 09:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th May 2018, 09:55 am

There was a large turn-out, but I expected more on such a hot topic as a hospital for Berwick.

After the CCG made its presentation officers took questions from members of the public. Some were calm, some were more heated, but overall the debates were in good order, there were a lot of ideas, and I have to say, the public had a better understanding of what they needed than the officers were providing.

In their presentation they gave us four sites – The Swan Centre, Newfields, Robert’s Lodge and Berwick Infirmary. All four sites have issues.

The Swan Centre will take away the playing fields and long-stay coach park, which would need to be replaced elsewhere at more cost. Newfields playing fields has got open space green status. Robert’s Lodge is ear-marked for development and has flooding issues. Berwick Infirmary has its problems with a narrow road network. I don’t think that CCG or the council have done their homework on these sites.

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Also, they could not provide answers to such questions as to how much money was in the pot, what services would be provided, etc.

Going back to the choice of sites, I stated that in my opinion none of them was viable.

The most outstanding site, which was mentioned by the public, was Seton Hall, but was not given as an option. It has everything going for it – big enough to develop, a more peaceful, healthier environment for recovering, and the ambulance station is a few hundred yards away.

If the various bodies got their act together, we could have the ambulance depot/station adjacent to the hospital, all under one umbrella, and the extra £6million in the county council budget could revamp the Swan Centre.

As we are only served here with two ambulances, and both can be called out at similar times, we could have a helicopter pad to be used for any other emergencies that could not be dealt with at Berwick.

It was evident that the CCG had one site foremost in mind and that was the Swan Centre, Northumberland County Council land so they could integrate the hospital with leisure services and save money.

The Seton Hall site belongs to Berwickshire Housing Association and could be purchased as it‘s up for sale. There would be adequate room for a proper hospital and social care hub, and still give us the services already promised in the Berwck Infirmary re-build.

There was a show of hands for which was the preferred option between an integrated hospital/leisure centre development or a stand-alone hospital. The overwhelming majority preferred a stand-alone hospital. It is well overdue.

People are fed up with the long, tiring and costly journeys to hospitals such as the RVI in Newcastle, Cramlington, Wansbeck or the Borders General. It is stressful enough when a loved one is in need of medical attention without having to face a 130-mile round trip.

A failed attempt to have the hospital located on the Academy land in 2009 led to a new 2014 plan to rebuild Berwck Infirmary, which was agreed via formal public consultations, all it needed was the planning permission. The redevelopment was due to be completed this year, but for several pauses obstructing the progress.

In the latter years Berwick Infirmary has been fragmented and Cheviot Ward is no longer used as a bedded ward. It appears that Northumbria Healthcare is stripping out the assets of the infirmary. Most of what we have now are clinics. For anything of an emergency nature you need to travel.

So I hope CCG puts on its running shoes and gets this situation up and running. It is well overdue as what we have now is not fit for purpose.

Jennifer McLean, who is a core member of the Berwick Deserves Better Facebook group, has put a lot of work into this topic and has showed me the 102 comments that the page had received from residents, some of which have had disturbing, stressful and harrowing experiences through not having a fit-for-purpose hospital.

My family have had similar experiences to some of these through the lack of local facilities. Forcing us to travel the long distances for appointments causes a lot more disruption and is extra expense in some cases.

Let’s not wait for another nine years – since 2009 when we were first promised a new hospital people who attended those meetings are no longer with us.

Northumbria Healthcare was loaned £25million in 2014 by Northumberland County Council specifically for a state-of-the-art hospital. We need it now, not in another nine years’ time.

Coun Alex Gibson

St Boisil’s Ward