Stick to the 2014 plan

There have been many meetings and debates over the integrated leisure centre/hospital proposed by Northumberland County Council, Northumbria Healthcare Trust and the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Sunday, 7th October 2018, 9:00 am

Their vision of ‘world class care’ for Berwick was consulted on with listening events and engagement days, along with a public meeting in the Guild Hall.

Most of these were poorly attended, mainly because of the lack of good advertising. The events were lacking in detail and, in some instances, appeared misleading, i.e, the map showed options for sites including Berwick Infirmary, but we were told that it was not viable due to access difficulties, etc. I was under the impression that they were pushing an agenda for the Swan Centre.

The Active Northumberland event in the Guild Hall led people to believe they were choosing only the site for a leisure centre, not an integrated facility.

The CCG presented its findings to the county council’s health and wellbeing committee, then to the overview and scrutiny committee. Three representatives of A Better Hospital For Berwick attended.

The CCG panel put forward its reasons why Berwick no longer needs endoscopy procedures, why 16 beds is enough, why integrating the new hospital with the Swan Centre would result in no significant change in health provision, and how it had concluded from the feedback that the people of Berwick welcomed and favoured the plan.

I’ve read the feedback document and anyone agreeing with the CCG conclusion must come from a different planet to the one I live on.

Coun Hill stated that more than 90 percent of people expressing opinions in the meeting, polls and petition did not want an integrated hospital on the leisure centre site and wanted a stand-alone hospital on a bigger site to enable future growth. However, the panel nodded it through.

The proposal was to forge ahead, with plans to build the leisure centre first, with a timescale of three years from 2019. There would then be nine months for hybrid planning consent, then the hospital build would take another three years, so all in all completion would be in eight years’ time.

Some £25million pounds of taxpayers’ money was loaned by the county council to Northumbria Healthcare Trust in 2013 for the rebuild of Berwick Infirmary.

Plans were drawn, consultation proved that everyone seemed happy, and promises were made to provide no less services than we had – endoscopy clinic, coroner’s room and birthing suite, along with extra services, Well Close Surgery and social care.

So what happened? Nothing, it seems, just empty promises and excuses for not proceeding with the work.

The 2014 business case included future-proofing the hospital with an extra storey if needed, and consideration was given as to staging the build to enable the continuation of care.

The business plan stated: “Berwick is the most isolated community hospital within the NHS Foundation Trust and the population has the furthest to travel for acute and general healthcare services, many of which should be done in the local hospital.”

Since the world class Cramlington hospital was built more and more patients, young and old, frail and weak, are enduring long, exhausting and often painful round trips of up to 120 miles for minor issues, such as blood tests and x-rays, in a system that is failing us all. Endoscopies and colonoscopies are no longer carried out in Berwick, and very few pre-op assessments are done here.

This is the biggest issue that Berwick has faced in my lifetime. I was born and bred in Berwick and have not witnessed such a huge groundswell of people coming forward to say ‘we’ve had enough’ and opposing the joint venture of a hospital/leisure development.

The objections we all have are not about the welcome investment for a state-of-the-art sports centre, or any other development in Berwick. What we want is the return of hospital services already taken away and a fit for purpose, future-proofed hospital, equipped with the same facilities and services afforded to other parts of Northumberland.

The leisure centre cannot give us this. It’s simply not big enough and it takes away the football pitch and playing field used by children.

Can the council, CCG and the trust not come up with anything better than to join a hospital with a leisure facility in the hope of making it easier for medical teams to encourage older generations to directly access fitness facilities via a communal main entrance to improve health and wellbeing? Better by far would be to fund local groups encouraging all manner of active pursuits for all ages, and combatting loneliness and exclusion at the same time.

Where are the real objectives described in the 2014 business case, the primary objective being to deliver safe, high quality healthcare services for patients locally?

These included responding to patients’ needs whilst maintaining and improving quality of care; providing a modern, purpose-built facility to enhance privacy, dignity and patient experience; allowing the development of specialist services locally where volume permits from a safety point of view; providing community healthcare facilities accessible to all; speeding up access to services and making best use of nursing skills; developing a wider range of health and social care services in community settings.

The people of Berwick say no to this ill thought-out, money-saving development.

Give Berwick the hospital it deserves, big enough for future growth and fit for purpose, with all of the services provided in the 2014 plan.

Gordon McLean