Residents will have the chance to have their say on Whalton Unit review
Moves are under way to provide a public engagement opportunity in relation to the Whalton Unit.
The 30 beds at the inpatient ward, which delivers specialist rehabilitation for frail older patients, temporarily moved from a facility in Morpeth to Ward 8 at Ashington’s Wansbeck General Hospital last December, with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust saying the decision was taken to ensure that staffing is as resilient as possible for winter.
The unit, which had been located opposite Morpeth Golf Club, also provides palliative care.
The Whalton Unit Group is campaigning for a full public consultation before any permanent decisions are made.
Members had a meeting with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust officials last Friday.
A spokeswoman for the group said after the meeting: “The Whalton Unit was moved to Ward 8 at Wansbeck General Hospital because of winter resilience, for example illness of staff and/or patients because of the cold weather.
“This is no longer an issue as it is August, but the reason for the move is now being referred to as ‘surges’ – i.e. busy periods that are not confined to the winter months.
“We were told that it was impossible to find qualified nursing staff to work at the Whalton Unit and that therefore the unit could not be safely staffed if it were returned to Morpeth.
“It is acknowledged that the facilities on Ward 8 do not provide the same facilities as those at the old Whalton Unit, such as separate rooms for privacy and rehabilitation facilities.
“But this was set against the ease of getting faster medical care from specialist doctors working at Wansbeck and the availability of other on-site staff and services.
“There will be an engagement process, commissioned by the Northumbria Healthcare Trust, but run by an independent organisation.
“This will happen in September, when the peak holiday period is over and more people are likely to be around to take part.
“The detail is still to be decided, but it is envisioned that there will be an online questionnaire, focus groups, on-street conversations, and a drop-in surgery.
“It would be really good if people take part in these discussions and let the trust know of your feelings about, and experiences of, the Whalton Unit, whether in Morpeth or in Ward 8.
“The results of the engagement process will be considered by Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee, which has the final say over whether a formal public consultation will take place.
“The current lease on the Whalton Unit in Morpeth is up in October, but we were assured that there were no plans for the equipment to be moved out and that the landlord would require three months’ notice before this could happen.
“We have been invited to take part in the engagement process by contributing questions and suggesting areas that we feel should be taken into account.
“We would welcome any suggestions about this, so if there is anything that you would like to be considered, please email email@example.com.”
Concerns that have been previously raised by the group include the following.
“Patients in Ward 8 share bays in a ward so they have none of the privacy or dignity that they had in the Whalton Unit, where there were separate rooms in which people could talk to visitors privately, or watch TV without disturbing other patients.”
“In Wansbeck General Hospital, beds are very close together, there is no privacy and TV costs £10 per day, regardless of how many or few hours it is watched.”
“TVs are above the beds so there can be six different channels playing at once, often at high volumes if patients are hard of hearing.”
A spokesman for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “Staff from Northumbria Healthcare were delighted to meet with local campaigners and had a useful and productive discussion with them about their concerns for the future of the Whalton Unit.
“We are committed to continuing this dialogue on an ongoing basis and to keeping the local community informed as to the next steps.
“One aspect of this will include both organisations working closely together during a period of engagement, which will be commissioned by the CCG.
“We pride ourselves on giving our patients and their relatives the best care and experience possible.
“Like all the wards at Wansbeck General Hospital, Ward 8 is well equipped to deliver the highest standard of patient care and we are incredibly grateful for the continued hard work the team at the Whalton Unit continue to provide their patients each and every day.
“We know the outcome of this review is extremely important to the local community and would like to thank them for their ongoing patience.
“We very much look forward to their contributions throughout our engagement period and hope that as many people as possible take part.”