Council bosses to end ‘prolonged agony’ of NHS talks

Last-ditch talks were not enough to stave off the looming ‘divorce’ between Northumberland’s local authority and NHS bosses.

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 5:41 pm
'Divorce' proceedings between Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT), which runs The Northumbria hospital, left, and Northumberland County Council, based at County Hall, Morpeth, right, over social care services are at an advanced stage.

Chiefs had previously warned it would take “something exceptionally significant” to salvage a 10-year-old deal to provide social care services in the county.

But despite a late attempt by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT) to patch up its current partnership with Northumberland County Council (NCC), the agreement is set to expire at the end of September.

“We’re talking about a decision which was not [the council’s], it was made by the trust,” said council leader Glen Sanderson. “This prolonged agony is doing no-one any good, least of all our staff – we’ve got masses of decisions to make every day and this is taking up an inordinate amount of time. I’m not going to change my mind, the cabinet is clear on what we need to do so let’s just get this done.”

A 2011 deal saw responsibility for most aspects of adult social care, including care management, community rehabilitation and specialist learning disability services, taken over by NHFT.

The tie-up between trust and council apparently worked so well that in 2015 it was named among eight areas in the NHS’s ‘vanguard’ programme to develop new models of care.

But a 2020 review reportedly ‘proved challenging’, and by February the trust had told the county council it planned to walk away from negotiations to renew its contract, with the existing partnership arrangement scheduled to end on September 30.

Members of NCC’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee made a late attempt to force local authority decision makers into a rethink, claiming bosses had not had enough information to make a ‘safe decision’ – especially after a late change of heart by NHCFT saw it offer to return to the table.

In a joint statement, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Northumberland County Council said: “Northumbria Healthcare and Northumberland County Council have reconfirmed their commitment to continue to work together in overcoming the challenges linked to Covid-19 recovery alongside delivering the best possible health, care and wellbeing outcomes for the communities they serve. Whilst this will not be in the form of a formal Partnership Agreement, both organisations remain key partners in tackling health inequalities and maintaining an excellent standard of health and care across Northumberland.”