Sadly Northumbria NHS Trust has now announced that the temporary arrangements at urgent care centres in Hexham, North Tyneside and Wansbeck general hospitals will remain in place until September.
When the Trust first went ahead with brand new £75m Cramlington Hospital they made a promise this would not negatively impact on overnight care at the other Northumbria general hospitals - I remain very clear in my view they should honour this commitment and I will continue to make the case for the Trust to find a long term solution overnight care at Hexham Hospital.
"As you know, I have had extensive meetings and discussions with NHS staff, managers and key Directors of the NHS Trust during several recent visits to the local hospital facilities at Hexham, and also at Cramlington.
However, I would like to make my case for the reopening of the overnight facility at Hexham General Hospital with 5 very specific reasons:
1. Firstly, maintaining an overnight walk-in facility is what the Trust, the Board and senior managers have made clear would happen on a repeated basis. When the Cramlington proposal was first suggested and consulted upon in 2008 I was not the MP. But, at that time, and on repeated occasions since, it has been guaranteed that a 24 hour facility would stay at Hexham. That assurance has been made to myself as the prospective candidate in 2009, before I was elected in 2010, and on several occasions since by Jim Mackey and other managers.
2. The exceptional circumstances that arose last Winter/Spring, which particularly caused the problems, have been addressed after a change of approach, not least with the improved admissions system and better working practices with the ambulance service. The situation has now changed dramatically in terms of the way the site is run, how ambulances are dealt with, and the evidence shows that admissions are clearly much faster and managed better.
3. I understand that, in addition to these measures, 65 additional nurses have been recruited at Cramlington to address the problem. From speaking to staff at Hexham Hospital last Friday morning it is now the case that nursing staff from Hexham no longer fill any overnight staffing gaps at Cramlington, and are only being used in the daytime.
4. The retention of the Hexham team and the overnight facility is little different to the cost of sending the same nurses to Cramlington. There may be a difference in the usage of their time at the two hospitals; however, there is no difference in cost, so this cannot be justified on any efficiency grounds. Furthermore, the cost to patients has to be borne in mind. Travelling late at night to Cramlington from rural Tynedale is a significant expense when compared to the cost of attending Hexham.
5. Fundamentally, there can be no doubt that this 6 month temporary closure of Hexham Hospital is also causing the Northumbria NHS Trust reputational damage - and this comes at a time when I know that, actually, both hospitals are doing very well. The creation and expansion of the Elderly Assessment and Ambulatory Care Unit at Hexham Hospital has been transformational in the numbers of elderly patients treated locally, rather than being treated in Cramlington. The success of the elective surgery and cancer treatment, for example, is rightly praised very highly and highly valued by residents. But these successes are being blighted by your temporary decision on overnight facilities.
Put very simply, a promise was made by the Trust that 24 hour care would continue at Hexham Hospital and that promise has to be honoured, especially given the clear changes in circumstances at Cramlington which now make that possible.
I have already explained my position and my approach on several occasions to key Trust representatives over the last 6 months, but agreed to produce a short letter for you and the NHS trust board, in writing. If you wish to discuss this further I am, as ever, more than happy to do so."