Have your say on the future of Whalton Unit

Campaigners in Morpeth will have to wait until at least November to find out more about the long-term future of the Whalton Unit.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 5:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 6:31 pm
Barbara Ross, from the Whalton Unit Campaign, with the petition outside County Hall.

In the meantime, health chiefs are going to carry out a programme of public engagement and independent research this week and next ‘to understand in more detail the views of the local population’.

The unit, which delivers specialist rehabilitation, mainly for frail older patients, moved to an interim base in Ward 8 at Ashington’s Wansbeck General Hospital on December 19 last year.

The shift, which Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust underlined was temporary at that time, was announced two weeks before its relocation, based on a need to ensure that there was adequate staffing to cope with the expected increase in demand over the winter months.

NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for planning and buying the county’s healthcare, had been informed in November.

The decision was reviewed in April by the trust and it was agreed to continue in the temporary home in Wansbeck, ‘pending an updated report to enable a longer timeline for the impact analysis, with a specific focus on the experience of patients’.

A petition, launched in the wake of the move and calling for a full public consultation, has been signed by 2,054 people and was handed in ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and well-being committee.

On-street engagement by an independent market research company has been taking place this week, while four public drop-in sessions are planned for next week.

There will be two in Morpeth Town Hall on Wednesday from 10am to 2pm then 4pm to 7pm, one in Morpeth NHS Centre from 10am to noon on Thursday, September 12, and another in Morpeth Riverside Leisure Centre from 11am to 1pm on Friday, September 13.

People will also be able to complete an online survey at www.northumberlandccg.nhs.uk

Janet Guy, lay chair at NHS Northumberland CCG, said: “It is absolutely vital that before we make any longer-term recommendation for the Whalton Unit, we understand in more detail the views of the local population.

“We know that this is an extremely important issue for the people of Morpeth and surrounding area and are holding a number of sessions to give the community as much opportunity as possible to have their say, alongside carrying out independent research in the town centre and having an online survey.”

An update to the meeting stated that the findings of the research and engagement will be shared at the committee’s meeting on Tuesday, November 5.

‘It is then when we anticipate to make a recommendation relating to the longer-term future of the Whalton Unit,’ the report to councillors said.

Committee chairman, Coun Jeff Watson, asked how long the relocation could be considered temporary. The CCG’s chief operating officer, Siobhan Brown, said: “We understand that temporary sometimes feels quite long, but it’s temporary up until the point that the CCG makes a formal decision.”

It was also revealed at the meeting that the Whalton Unit Campaign, which organised the petition, will be involved in an engagement group as part of the process.

A spokesman for the campaign said: “We actively encouraging people to take part in the public engagement exercise.

“We understand that the trust is still finalising additional meetings with focus groups and will also be meeting with Morpeth GPs as well as patient groups.

“We are concerned about the loss of the Whalton Unit to Morpeth and the impact upon elderly people within our community who might need it in the future.

“For those who are not aware, there is a big difference between an engagement, what is happening this month, and a full public consultation, which is the objective of our group.

“A consultation has a lot more influence on what happens in the long run. We will continue to campaign for this to happen.”