Health bosses leading the consultation on the future of urgent care services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton are calling on the public to have their say before the process ends this week.
As part of the consultation led by NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), in partnership with South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 13 public meetings have already been held.
The final meeting is at 10.15am this Friday at Northallerton Town Hall.
The Friarage Hospital has experienced difficulties in recruiting critical care anaesthetists for some time, and in February 2019 the situation became more serious, resulting in urgent
temporary changes to A&E, critical care and emergency admissions overnight from March 2019, said the trust.
The CCG is consulting on two options for urgent and emergency care. The first involves replacing A&E with a 24/7 Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) supported by a responsive front-of-house emergency medical service.
This is the current model that was introduced as part of the temporary arrangements brought in at the Friarage Hospital in March 2019 and it deals with approximately 90 per cent of patients who would have previously attended A&E.
The second option would see A&E replaced with a 16-hour UTC that would close between midnight and 8am as the service currently sees on average less than three patients per night.
Dr Charles Parker, clinical chairman of NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG, said: “We would like to encourage as many people as possible to have their say.
"Under the new model, more than nine out of 10 people will continue to receive healthcare in Northallerton.
"Our aim is to maximise local access to high quality services, and the new Urgent Treatment Centre would provide care for 97 per cent of those that attended A&E last year.
"This service is backed up by the consultant led admissions unit with daily admissions and has seen a return to the treatment of minor illnesses in children in the local area, which under the previous adults A&E model we couldn’t provide.”
In addition to the public meetings, a series of focus groups and street surveys have taken place.
More than 1,300 people have already completed a survey to share their views on proposals for the future of the hospital’s urgent care service. Anyone wanting to take part
can access the survey online via the CCG website.
The options for consideration have been developed in partnership with staff, patients, carers, and local organisations. They take into account national policy, advice and guidance on the
provision of clinically safe, high quality services, said the CCG.
The Save the Friarage Hospital campaign mounted a legal challenge against the downgrading of emergency care, but proceedings were halted in July amid plans for the consultation.
However, members were concerned that an option to reinstate the A&E was not included in the process.
Campaign lead Hollly Wilkinson today said the options on the table "completely blindsided" the settlement.
"One of the conditions was that they would periodically look at reinstating the A&E unit."
She added that the 24-hour option was "definitely the lesser of two evils" but that the community was expanding, with new build homes being developed in the surrounding areas of the hospital, and noted the presence of Catterick Garrison.
"The location of the Friarage is in a geographically sensible location for those people," she said.
A spokesman for South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:"The circumstances which led the trust to introduce a temporary Urgent Treatment Centre model at the Friarage Hospital in March last year are reviewed periodically and have not changed.
"There is a national shortage of critical care clinicians and it is simply not feasible to run a safe A&E unit at the Friarage at this time.
"It would not be right for the trust or partners in NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group to consult on an option to reinstate A&E when it clearly cannot be delivered.
"We believe the 24-hour and 16-hour Urgent Treatment Centre models we have put forward, and are asking people to comment on, are innovative and make the best use of available resources."