A review of the long-term location of a hospital ward, whose temporary move has caused concern in its previous home of Morpeth, will be completed by March, health chiefs have said.
The announcement in relation to the Whalton Unit comes as the campaign calling for a consultation about the decision and any potential further arrangements gathers pace.
The 30 beds at the inpatient ward, which delivers specialist rehabilitation for frail older patients, moved to Ward 8 at Ashington’s Wansbeck General Hospital on Wednesday, December 19, with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust saying the decision has been taken to ensure that staffing is as resilient as possible for winter.
An online petition seeking support for the consultation call was created and it now has more than 800 signatures.
In addition, the campaigners have launched a paper petition this week. A copy of it can be signed at Age UK in Newgate Street.
Meetings have been arranged and they are in the process of drawing up a questionnaire.
When it was announced last month, Northumbria Healthcare said that the relocation would be reviewed in the summer, but at Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee, chief operating officer Helen Ray announced that this review will be completed by March.
She said the unit being based in Wansbeck had helped provide stronger support and cover for staff, as well as easier access for patients to other hospital services, such as diagnostic tests.
Mrs Ray also explained that there are currently seven vacancies – half of the team – at the Whalton Unit, despite six rounds of recruitment; one of the reasons for this is that many staff would prefer working as part of a larger site rather than being isolated, she said.
However, Derry Nugent, project coordinator for Healthwatch Northumberland, pointed out that ‘patient experience is so important too’.
If there were to be any permanent changes to the Whalton Unit’s location, this would be subject to public consultation and scrutiny by the health and wellbeing committee.
At a meeting in Morpeth Town Hall last month, concerns were raised by residents and some town councillors about the level of privacy available at the hospital ward when palliative care, which in some cases will be end-of-life care, needs to be provided.
One of the campaigners, Barbara Ross, said: “We recognise that sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, but we feel that the people of Morpeth should at least be consulted and that the rationale behind them should be explained in clear and simple terms.
“We had a very successful meeting with our local MP Ian Lavery on January 4, with whom we discussed a number of important issues, and he has given us his full support. We are looking forward to meeting Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare, later this month.
“We are in the process of drawing up a questionnaire to canvass the opinion of people currently using the facilities of the Whalton Unit in Wansbeck General Hospital, although we recognise the sensitivities.”