PATIENT safety must come first, hence the decision to scale back the treatment of seriously-ill patients at Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, and transfer the patients concerned to hospitals in either Middlesbrough or Darlington, due to a shortage of specialist staff.
Yet, while Richmond MP Rishi Sunak hopes, and believes, that the measure is a short-term one as he seeks clarity from the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, it will not be lost on his voters that he is also a local government minister.
And rather than putting pressure on local NHS chiefs, he should be asking why the Department of Health and Social Care has not taken sufficient steps to make sure there are sufficient staff.
For, while Theresa May blamed Labour when Stephen Crabb, a former Work and Pensions Secretary, highlighted the scaling back of hospital cover in rural Wales at PMQs, this Government has – just like its predecessors – failed to put sufficient safeguards in place for countryside communities.
By playing the ‘blame game’, it fails to appreciate the heartache and hardship that will be experienced by patients – and relatives – who do not have access to their own transport in predominantly rural areas. And with an ageing population, the role of hospitals like the Friarage will become more important in the future.
Rather than accepting a ‘temporary’ cut which could become permanent if new staff are not recruited, either because of their unavailability or financial constraints, Mr Sunak should be persuading Ministerial colleagues in all departments to stop short-changing rural Britain.