Just getting what we have

Good news! Or is it?

Monday, 17th December 2018, 8:00 am

Northumbria NHS Trust have announced ‘good progress’ with the new hospital in Berwick. It seems to be mostly about the site. But what about services? That’s the big question.

The announcement refers to ‘more appointments at the Infirmary’ and ‘a review of the services hosted there’ as well as ‘how they can be better adapted/structured’. That’s about getting the best out of what we already have.

And it suggests that’s not been happening.

Well, that much is clear from all the stories people have been sharing; shocking stories of needless suffering imposed by having to travel too far for services Berwick should obviously already have.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

So it’s good to know the Trust will respond to ‘justified concerns around Berwick residents making journeys to our other sites’.

But is this only about ‘appointments which should be held at the current Berwick Infirmary site’? If it’s not happening in Berwick Infirmary now, does that mean it won’t happen in the new hospital? Are you still going to have to get yourself down the road for everything else?

Jim Mackey (chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust) wrote to us saying that ‘any new development in Berwick will be purely focused on the provision of the current services provided’.

A letter from Vanessa Bainbridge (accountable officer to the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group) added that ‘the position concerning the services delivered from the new hospital remains unchanged. The proposed services are the same as those currently delivered from Berwick Infirmary’.

Daljit Lally (executive director of delivery for Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust, and chief executive of Northumberland County Council) and Peter Jackson (Leader of Northumberland County Council) wrote jointly to us highlighting NHS England’s advice ‘that a new hospital providing the same services as the current hospital would not amount to a significant service change’.

That was advice which Christine Briggs (director of delivery and commissioning at NHS England, Cumbria and North East) outlined in a letter to Vanessa Bainbridge (accountable officer for the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group), noting that ‘the rebuild will continue to provide the same service range with only minimal reduction’ and that this was ‘in line with the CCG’s assessment of current utilisation and future demand’.

So, apparently, based on what we use now, and what we are going to need, then we’ll just be getting what we already have; only in a new building!

Hang on, though! If we’re already being sent elsewhere for appointments which should be happening locally, then that means ‘assessment of current utilisation’ is already giving a falsely low impression of what Berwick needs.

That means you can’t use those figures to predict future demand, either.

You need to start again and look at referral rates: who is being sent where, how far, why, and what for

If there are enough people needing a particular service which would be more readily accessible to them in Berwick than in any other location, then the new hospital plans should include that service.

That means a data-based forecast for referral rates for services which everyone living closer to Berwick is currently having to travel further away to access.

An assessment of ‘current utilisation’ is clearly inadequate. Consultation and engagement is obviously important.

Everyone must have the opportunity to voice their views.

Of course, the overwhelming flood of public comments and opinions has all been to do with services – not the site.

We asked Claire Riley (director of communications and corporate affairs for Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust) what the next consultation and engagement will be about, since she is now in charge of it.

Claire wrote to reply that it would be ‘about the site, the potential design of the site’ and also ‘details regarding services’.

We need to be sure, then, that those aren’t just ‘details regarding services’ we already have but, crucially, ‘details regarding services’ we desperately need.

We want a better hospital for Berwick; not a just-as-good-only-re-built-nearby hospital!

Only a rigorous review of referral rates will reveal the full extent of the range of services Berwick is going to need.

The new hospital must be planned to provide these.

An assessment of current utilisation, as well as more consultation and engagement, are indeed necessary. But they are not sufficient. We need a rigorous review of referral rates, too.

A huge thank you to everyone who attended out public meeting last Wednesday evening.

It’s fantastic to see such strong support for the campaign.

Our numbers on Facebook continue to grow. More people are signing up to our website alerts.

Keep checking in with us online for updates, and sending us your stories by email.

As soon as there’s any news to respond to we’ll let you know what we’ve got planned.

The committee of A Better Hospital For Berwick