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Archive for the tag “Berwick Infirmary”

A Better Hospital For Berwick gathers momentum

This morning some 300 people gathered to demonstrate against the plans to build a new ‘health facility’ in Berwick – co-located with a new leisure facility.


It may seem extraordinary that a population would not want such new facilities. Well, of course, people want and need decent healthcare provision and proper clinical services (and a leisure facility too) here in Berwick. And that is what is driving the campaign group A Better Hospital for Berwick.

Under the new plans, Northumberland County Council and the other groups involved (Clinical Commissioning Group and Northumbria Healthcare Foundation) in the decision-making process assert that:

Every service currently present at the existing site will continue to be provided at the new one. Indeed we are optimistic that, over time, new ones will be added; particularly as the NHS and the Council continue to embrace new technology and ways of working.

However, clinical services in Berwick have already been magicked away. For example, an endoscope purchased by Berwick Infirmary’s League of Friends is now sited in Alnwick, 35 miles south of Berwick. This means a minimum 70-mile round trip (but often a 120-mile round trip to Ashington or other hospital facilities such as North Tyneside and Hexham)  for an extremely invasive procedure. It’s a procedure that is both distressing and traumatic (I know this first-hand from my own bowel cancer diagnosis back in 2015) and leaves one prone to embarrassing and humiliating accidents afterwards.

So, to suggest that ‘every service currently present… will continue’ is a bit of verbal trickery. A Better Hospital For Berwick maintains that clinical services such as endoscopes and others that have been taken away should be restored under any plans for health provision in Berwick. These services were certainly in plans to refurb the current Infirmary as recently as 2016 – but are not in plans for the co-located facility.

The campaign group maintain that for the authorities to suggest that the removal of services is due to ‘dwindling demand’ is perverse. Ultimately it is the authorities who drive demand by where they locate clinical facilities and where patients are referred.

The Cabinet meeting this morning focused on the leisure centre facilities. Leader of NCC, Peter Jackson, asserted that the Cabinet members had nothing to do with decisions regarding healthcare provision. The Agenda for the meeting states:

To seek agreement to the development of improved leisure facilities in Berwick
● To agree to moving a scheme forward with Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust as a combined project (Leisure and Hospital facility) at the Swan site.

● To approve an increase in the capital program allocation for the leisure centre development to £18m from the current allocation of £6m approved plus £6m in the y year capital plan.

● To approve the commencement of the detailed design phase in conjunction with Active Northumberland.

Clearly, despite what Mr Jackson says, any decisions taken are linked to both leisure and healthcare provision.

A Better Hospital For Berwick has gathered a big following. It has shown that it can gather and unite people in Berwick despite chilly weather and a meeting time when most people are at work. It has gained press coverage (ITV Tyne Tees and BBC North as well as Radio Borders and The Berwick Advertise were covering the demo this morning). The test for the group will be to maintain momentum and communicate its concerns coherently and cohesively within the community and beyond.


Save our hospital facilities!

In 2016, the spades were nearly in the ground. Berwick Infirmary was to be refurbed, substantially rebuilt and updated with comprehensive clinical services from X-ray to day surgery, physio to A&E, and chemotherapy to beds and wards. Crank forward two years and a very different plan is on the table.

Northumberland County Council (NCC), Northumbria Healthcare Trust and the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are moving forward with an integrated facility on the site of the Swan Leisure Centre. Hospital and Leisure Centre would sit side by side on one site. And why not? As long as both services are delivered effectively and infrastructure, access, safety and other core issues are addressed, surely co-location doesn’t matter a fig.

However, a local group ‘A Better Hospital for Berwick’ views things very differently. The group evolved after Nigel Szczepaniak, a local pharmacist and hypnotherapist, made an impassioned video statement on Facebook about the whittling away of health and hospital facilities. The joint statement from the CCG, NHS and NCC states that ‘every service currently present at the existing site will continue to be provided at the new one’. Szczepaniak points out that, over the years, the services available at the Infirmary have been substantially reduced.

The suggestion is that the promise of NCC, Northumbria NHS Trust and CCG is therefore a shallow one. A sleight of hand to conceal reduced healthcare facilities whilst addressing the problems of a leisure facility which is losing money.

Nigel set up a Facebook page A Better Hospital for Berwick which is led by local woman Kirsty Jamieson . In the space of 10 days or so it’s gathered nearly 3000 members. Last night (Wednesday 5 September 2018), an open meeting in the Salvation Army Hall attracted some 150 people. The welcome from the Lieutenant in charge of the hall included a request to ‘remember this is a place of worship and please use appropriate language’. The plea was unnecessary.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, crowd and indoor

(Photo Gayle Skelly)

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

(Photo Jim Herbert)

People from all political persuasions and all ages had crammed into the hall to discuss how to stop hospital facilities being disappeared from the town. These include endoscopies which have been relocated to Alnwick – a 70–mile round trip – and will not be returned under the new plans. The campaign to halt the CCG agreeing to the co-location plans as they stand is a pressing issue. There’s a cabinet meeting on Monday 10th September at 10.00am at Berwick’s Swan Leisure Centre to approve the plans.

The group discussed what their aims should be and shared moving and often tragic stories of the ill and elderly traipsing  to Ashington or Cramlington for short appointments or invasive treatments (a 120-mile round trip), of sick children being airlifted out of Berwick and women having babies in ambulances on the A1. Others spoke of no longer being able to have pre-ops at Berwick – that’s another 70-mile round trip to Alnwick.

People were, on the whole, realistic: Berwick cannot expect a state-of-the-art all-singing all-dancing hospital facility. What it should expect and needs is a facility that delivers essential clinical services to the 13,000 residents of Berwick and the outlying population as well as to the thousands of tourists who visit the town and area each year. Given the challenges of the undualled A1, the two-strong Ambulance service in Berwick and an ageing population – it does not seem unrealistic to expect this. The town relies heavily on a voluntary helicopter ambulance and Berwick & District Cancer Support Group which provides free volunteer-driven cars for those who need to get to and from the Newcastle and Ashington facilities.

The group agreed that the focus of their action would be:

  • A fit-for-purpose hospital for Berwick – with the facilities, clinical services and room for expansion that were to be included in the hospital that was so nearly delivered in 2016

(Edit: I should make it clear that the campaign group A Better Hospital for Berwick suggest that facilities and services  ‘promised following the 2014 hospital consultation, should be the minimum provided’.)

A Better Hospital for Berwick claims that the consultation process was flawed and that the majority of people in Berwick hold strong views that are contrary to those presented to the health and wellbeing committee. A Better Hospital for Berwick says that many local people were simply unaware of the consultations, and that others felt their views had not been recorded correctly. The health and wellbeing committee has asserted that the process could have been better but had been carried out properly.

For those who wish to make their voices heard on the issue and find out more about the plans the group has in the forthcoming days, follow the hashtag #abetterhospitalforberwick on Twitter and click here to go the Facebook page. The group is urging people to contact those on the attendee list for the meeting on Monday to voice their concerns as soon as possible. The full agenda and papers and list of potential attendees can be found here. Calls were also made to lobby local MP Anne-Marie Trevlyan, local councillors and local media.

(c) Jackie Kaines

My journey into Cancer Care starts with an Ed Byrne joke

Yesterday I stood on a threshold.

Stepping over it is the beginning of a journey. Not like the journey my family and I undertook five years ago when we relocated from North London to the northernmost town in England. Nevertheless I shall be joining a well-travelled path, trodden by mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents… and now me. It involves a word that is simultaneously revered and feared a bit like Voldemort in Harry Potter: Cancer.

It started with the comedian Ed Byrne’s visit to the Maltings Theatre in Berwick early in October. The Maltings is a venue our family has treasured since we moved to Berwick and, believe it or not, we did not even know it was here when we first moved! Great research, eh? The Maltings is a place I’ve imbibed (literally in the bar and restaurant as well as figuratively) original drama, art, musicals, comedy, pantos etc., and latterly performances streamed live from the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s a place I love and that I suspect will come under increasing threat as the ripple effect of austerity bites and funding is whittled away.

Some may say that the arts should stand or fall on their own merits. Why should our taxes fund high-falutin’, weirdy beardy stuff – some of which we don’t even want to see? I say the arts give us a precious space to explore boundaries in ways that change and shape lives; and allow young and old to express themselves, explore who they want to be, and consider how they are going to engage in the world. At the Maltings, for example, a recent packed audience (which included many rows of school children) heard Zdenka Fantlova, one of the few remaining holocaust survivors, share her heartrending story. In the listening, we all became tear-stained witnesses to something that, for God’s sake, should never ever happen again. Back in today’s real world we see and hear vitriol randomly piled on ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’, partly because they present a very challenging global phenomenon but also because they’re people ‘not like us’. Hopefully all of us will say: ‘No!’ to attitudes that are a cancer of our age.

The arts give us precious space to explore boundaries in ways that change and shape lives

It was a joke that Ed Byrne told about visiting the doctor for a severe case of the squits (Go Ed! that one will run and run…) that prompted me to visit Berwick Infirmary via my GP. One thing my husband hoped for when we decamped from London was a training hospital (the old people’s friend). The Infirmary may not be that, but it’s a damn good facility, peopled by some damn fine staff.  Looking at our area and seeing how far the nearest hospitals are, makes you wonder why Berwick Infirmary isn’t packed. I’d suggest that a decline in users directly correlates with a decline in provision. As funding and services are siphoned off to ‘centralised’ facilities, that’s inevitably where patients are referred to. People in and around Berwick need more than a building, we need ready access to a range of high-quality treatment equivalent to that afforded to city dwellers. That means facilities and trained staff deployed across the region.

True care is something we should all receive, whoever we are and wherever we are

My own trip to the Infirmary involved an intimate procedure (cameras, tubes, need I say more?) which could have been embarrassing and humiliating. However I was treated with understanding and compassion – a person not a case. I was even given a cup of tea and biscuit before I left. This is true care. And we should all receive it, whoever we are and wherever we are.

It’s been a great laugh and privilege sharing my tales of moving from south to north through this column for five years. Now I’m going to take a little time out to pause and concentrate on this new journey.

(A version of this article was first printed in the Berwick Advertiser on 29 October 2015)

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