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.
(Photo Gayle Skelly)
(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