Campaigners urge NHS bosses to 'listen to the community' over A&E closure

The NHS said the consultation was carried out properly. Pic: Google
The NHS said the consultation was carried out properly. Pic: Google
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Campaigners trying to reopen the accident and emergency department at the Friarage Hospital have launched a fresh legal challenge after a public consultation did not offer them the chance to keep the service.

The consultation took place between 13 September last year and 17 January, however, the Save Friarage Hospital group said it did not include an option for the A&E department to be reinstated. Instead the options put forward to the public were for the department to be replaced with either a 24-hour urgent treatment centre or a 16-hour urgent treatment centre.

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Lawyers have now written to NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG expressing concerns that the consultation was unlawful.

The most recent row in the Friarage Hospital saga began after the High Court granted permission for a judicial review into the decision to close the A&E.

However, the judicial review did not go ahead after the NHS Trust and the NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) agreed to hold a full consultation into the future of services at the hospital.

Holly Wilkinson, Campaign Lead of the Save Friarage Hospital group, said: “We are hugely concerned by how the consultation has been carried out, particularly as it feels like the decision to switch to two options was seemingly made behind closed doors.

“The difference between the two urgent treatment centre options is so slight – literally a difference of eight hours. The consultation doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the loss of the emergency department would be a fundamental change to the hospital and its services. This would have a major impact on the wider community and would mean patients having to travel miles way to places such as Middlesbrough or Darlington for emergency treatment.

“It’s so disappointing that after months of work we find ourselves in this situation again. The local NHS authorities need to listen to the community and work with us on this issue, but once again we’re battling to be heard.”

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Helen Smith, the specialist public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office, representing the local resident, said: “Throughout this process we have stressed that we completely understand and appreciate the many challenges that the NHS has faced in recent times. However, that is no excuse for failing to properly consult on a key service within a community.

“For the fresh consultation not to include an option of maintaining A&E services is very worrying and seemingly just ignores the legitimate concerns of campaigners. The options put forward for consultation are extremely narrow and do not provide the public with an opportunity to have a say on the fundamental change to service provision, which is the removal of the A&E and associated services from the Friarage Hospital.

“We have written to health bosses arguing that a full consultation with an option of reinstating A&E services is held otherwise the campaign group may take legal action.

“It is vital that residents in the area can have a full say in this issue knowing that the views of all have been considered.”

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NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG said: "We are faced with a national shortage of doctors in emergency and critical care and it has not been possible to recruit those clinicians with the necessary skills to be able to run a safe A&E unit at the Friarage Hospital.

"The situation is not likely to improve any time soon and as a result, the decision was taken not to include this option during the recent public consultation. It would have been inappropriate and misleading for the CCG and partners at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to put this model forward when it is impossible to deliver amid such severe recruitment challenges.

"We firmly believe the Urgent Treatment Centre model - introduced on a temporary basis at the Friarage Hospital last year - is innovative and ground-breaking and delivers high quality care for the overwhelming majority of people who would have previously accessed A&E at the hospital."