More information on Shotley Bridge Hospital

After my last post, expecting Ward 2 at Shotley Hospital to re-open in February after repair work is completed in January, I went away on holiday. I was therefore very disappointed to come back to a newspaper article in which a Foundation Trust spokesperson failed to confirm this, but was reported as saying the trust position was that “all options would be considered once the work is complete.”

I therefore took the opportunity to pursue this again at Health Scrutiny on Friday. It was confirmed to me again that the ward will re-open, that the closure is temporary, but a precise date for re-opening has not yet been determined. I will stay on the case.

We have also been provided with a list of all the services available at Shotley Bridge Hospital which I print below. It’s important that local people know what services are available locally without having to travel great distances:


Shotley Hospital Ward should reopen in February

That’s the good news I got from a health scrutiny meeting this morning, directly from the Chief Executive of the County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust.

In response to my question she told me that the “owners” of the hospital, NHS Property Services Limited, had told her that their contractors should finish the remedial work they have been doing by the end of January, and once that was completed it would be safe to start the process o reopening the ward which was shut because of the risks patients would have faced if an emergency evacuation had been needed as a result of flooding.

I am delighted at that news. Understandably, people always fear the worst when there is any reduction of services at our local hospital, but what I was told this morning was completely in line with what councillors were told in the Autumn. The closure was temporary and dependent on further survey and remedial work. The ongoing need for hospital beds in the area is recognised. The longer term future would reflect the continuing need for hospital beds in the Consett area.

A longer term review of Community hospitals across the county is being undertaken, and neither I nor anyone else can second guess what that will bring, so I’m not a starry eyed optimist who believes that the reopening of Ward 2 will guarantee the future of the hospital.

I am, however, greatly encouraged by the fact that what was promised when the ward was closed is going to take place. Building confidence is important. If people allow themselves to believe that closure is inevitable ( a view I too often hear expressed) they risk making it easier for just that to happen.

The best protection for our services is a commitment to retaining them, continual vigilance, and a determination to let neither cynicism nor over-optimism cloud our judgement when weighing what we are told.

Be Very Afraid

After the last-minute, and deliberately obscured, transfer of North Durham patients from NHS planning with Teesside and Darlington, into a new planning process around the Tyne, Wear and Northumberland area, North Durham patients have every reason to fear for their hospital services.

These new plans, called Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP), are designed to create big cost reductions in the NHS, and the effect in Durham may prove to be the dismembering of our current Foundation Trust, and the closure of either Chester le Street or Shotley Bridge Community Hospital.

Yesterday’s publication of the STP clearly states that Durham’s UHND will be thrown in with Sunderland and South Tyneside, developing “collaborative arrangements with the acute provision in University Hospital of North Durham and the South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare.” The report does, however, at least establish continuing Accident and Emergency Services at UHND in Durham.

Particularly worrying for this area is the fact that the report also clearly refers to an option appraisal within the next twelve months on a community hospital (no “s” – believe it’s a typo if you will, but to me that is singular and means just one) for North Durham which currently has two: Chester le Street and Shotley Bridge.

That’s extremely worrying, especially taken alongside the recent “temporary” closure of Ward 2, and the fact that I still haven’t received a copy of the summary of the survey report on the hospital, apparently held up because there are differences of opinion about its accuracy.

I blame no-one if they can’t find it in them to read the STP which they can access here. We are all to blame, though, if we shrug and just let whatever happens happen.


FOOTPRINTS march for the NHS

You don’t have to be a member of any particular political grouping to be a supporter of the NHS and the principle that, whilst highly specialised services may need to be located in centralised hospitals, more general care needs to be based as close as possible to people’s homes. That’s why I’ll be joining the FOOTPRINTS march from Bishop Auckland to Shotley Bridge Hospital on October 24th.

If you’re fit enough to walk the 17.6 miles (there’s a bus from Tow Law to Castleside) do join us. I can send you the itinerary if you want.

If not, why not take a gentle stroll to the Demi in the evening.


Lock-down at County Hall

Last Wednesday at County Hall a journalist asked me if I would like to comment on a decision, as she put it, to privatise a part of the local council’s social care provision. I couldn’t. I didn’t know whether it was true, or what had happened behind closed doors at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet a week earlier.

Press and Public had been excluded from the meeting, and the report excluded from the public domain with two legal reasons given: possible effect on industrial relations, and legal opinion being quoted.

You can read the journalist’s story here.

As soon as I had heard about this I sought access to the papers, which I had to sign for and which I have read, but am prevented from releasing or discussing anything in them by virtue of paragraphs 4, 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.

I then raised with Legal Services my view that it is a circular nonsense to publish a Key Decision on the council website as “The Cabinet approved the recommendations contained in the report” when the report itself cannot be read. A week later I am still awaiting a meaningful response.

I wrote to the Chair of the Adult, Wellbeing and Overview and Scrutiny Committee, copied to the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny board to request that the report be presented to the committee. A week later I am still awaiting a response.

What a way to run a council.

Wellbeing for Life Survey



Some of you will know this logo. Others won’t. In a nutshell its self-description is “FREE service supporting you to live well in County Durham.”

You could help them (and me) know how they (and we) are doing by completing their survey at (applicable only to those of us who live in the North of the County).

I started to do it myself, but realised that what is really needed is is not more answers from “the usual suspects” like me, but open-minded, non-partisan members of the local community. People like you.

Small impacts

As a councillor there is enough beating of one’s head against a wall to make even small impacts rewarding.

Today, as expected, the Mental Health Trust for our area made its decision on provision for elderly sufferers from severe dementia, sufferers whose behaviours are so challenging that they cannot be catered for outside of hospital. The decision is to close the Picktree Ward at Lanchester Road, and to cater for sufferers from this condition only at Bishop Auckland.

Readers of my first article will know that I opposed the closure of the Durham ward from day one – even before the proposals to consider it were made public.

Readers of my next article will know that the outcome was never in doubt. The consultation was of the early twentieth century Henry Ford approach – you can have any colour car you like so long as it is black.

So why do I refer to “small impacts”. That’s because, after heavy lobbying in which I led the charge, two concessions have been extracted – for six months at least.

One is that, in discussion, if it would better suit patients and carers from the north of the county to receive treatment in the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, or the Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust, this option will be allowed if beds are available.

The other is that there will be assistance with transport (either in the form of “excess” private mileage reimbursement, trust provided taxi or volunteer private scheme provision) for people who, like us in Consett, will have further to travel to visit loved ones in hospital.

Both these concessions will be subject to review after six months, and I am therefore very keen to hear from anyone who is is a relative or carer for an elderly dementia sufferer who has to be admitted to hospital in this period – partly so that I can check how this “mitigation scheme” is working, and partly so that I have some actual experiences to set against the monitoring figures which we will be supplied with.

If anyone would like full details of the “mitigation scheme” just email me and I’ll get it to you.

Macho politics can damage people’s health

I went to Cabinet today to ask them to extend the secondment of an Occupational Therapist to the Care Connect Team. The current secondment is due to finish in August. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s critical.

Cabinet has decided to introduce a charge for thousands of frail and vulnerable people who were previously getting this emergency alarm system free. They used to get it free because they were receiving certain benefits. Some of those people, who are not well off, will quit the system (even if they need it) because they feel they can’t afford it. Some could suffer very serious problems as a result, even death.

Many of those people will not know that they could still have the service free if they have sufficient medical needs (those assessed as needing Telecare still get it free). Why would they have asked? They were getting it free anyway. That’s why the occupational therapist could play such a vital role. They could proactively approach people for assessment and, if assessing them as having medical needs requiring Telecare, arrange it directly for them. That’s why I went to make sure the Cabinet were aware of the situation and to give them the chance to take an easy, low cost and effective action to lessen the impact of the change.

I got no such promise.

I understand why the council is introducing these charges. Cuts from central government are real, and blanket free provision of the service for people who happen to be on certain benefits, regardless of their health, is an expensive luxury. But declining to extend the secondment of the occupational therapist simply because the request comes from someone who is not in their own political party is an act of political machismo too far for me.


Watch out for a new threat to Shotley Bridge Hospital

I got a shock at the last Health Committee Meeting at Durham. There was a report about breast cancer clinics which seemed to be saying that for “first contact” breast cancer clinics – the first meeting with a consultant for people who had been referred and urgently need to be seen within a two week period – the hospitals would be making permanent their recent policy centralising on just two hospitals; Durham and Darlington (formerly Bishop Auckland).

I’m always very protective of services at Shotley Bridge, but was just about willing to go along with the proposal since these appointments are obviously very urgent, and the report said there was clear evidence that centralising in this way reduced the number of women who delayed appointments until they could get a more local one. Any unnecessary delay, however, can be disastrous.

What emerged as we questioned hospital officials was a completely different scenario. It became apparent that what they were intending was to end all consultant-led breast cancer clinics in Bishop Auckland and Shotley Bridge, leaving only the lower level “nurse-led” clinics in place.

I defy anyone to read the report (which you can link to here ) and see the intention to stop consultant-led outpatient appointments at Shotley Bridge & Bishop Auckland. I had read it very carefully and it came as a total surprise. That’s why I and other councillors present (I was the only one from the Consett area) have called for the report to be re-presented, and spoken to the North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group to press for continuing consultant led clinics at Shotley Bridge. If you want to let them know your feelings please do read the report too, relate it to what I’ve written, and contact the Clinical Commissioning Group at .

Anonymous email

“You might want to ask the relevant authorities what plans they have to downgrade services at Shotley Bridge Hospital”.

That was the email I received last week, and I guess it was referring to the proposals raised at this morning’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee today under a “Review of Urgent Care services in North Durham” of which I became aware last Friday.

In essence the long term plan is to make the Urgent Care facility at Shotley nurse-led during daytime hours, doctor-led out of hours. The logic used is that 68% of the users of the centre during daytime hours have issues that could be dealt with at their GP surgery, but have chosen to go to the Urgent Care Centre instead. The problem is that the reason they are there is that their perception – or the reality – is that it’s difficult to get a GP appointment quickly, whereas it’s easy to present yourself at Shotley’s Urgent Care Centre.

Regular readers will already know from this story last March how much I appreciate the centre.

That’s why I’ll be pressing very hard for the North Durham Clinical Commissioning group to prove that they’ve sorted out the problems with getting a doctor’s appointment before making any changes to the Urgent Care Centre. For that we need some hard evidence about how long it takes on average to get a GP appointment, and how effective surgeries are at getting early appointments for patients with an urgent need to see a doctor.

It appears that MPs were briefed last week, and we’ve now started a six week “engagement” process in which I hope you’ll all take the chance to have your say. According to the papers we were given the consultation period is six weeks from today, though there’s no sign of it yet on the North Durham CCG website . Apparently you should also be able to feed in your views through the Urgent Care Centre itself, GP practices, drop-in sessions at Shotley Bridge Hospital over the next three weeks and a range of community and voluntary sector groups including the AAP.

Please do let me know how it reaches you – or you reach out for it..

And if you sent the anonymous email and this was not what you were talking about, please get back in touch.