Campaigners ‘very disappointed but not surprised’ over Whalton Unit move plans

Campaigners say they are ‘very disappointed but not surprised’ after health chiefs backed plans to keep the Whalton Unit at Wansbeck hospital following its move from Morpeth.

Monday, 28th October 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 1:48 pm
Barbara Ross, of the Whalton Unit Campaign

A director of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said that they appreciated local people would be disappointed, but that it was the ‘right thing to do due to the improvements in patient safety since the move’.

This is, however, subject to a number of additional recommendations, including the development of further palliative care services in Morpeth and the trust continuing to provide transport support for relatives and carers to visit patients at Wansbeck.

NHS Whalton Unit.

It is also subject to scrutiny on Tuesday, November 5, by Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee, who will determine if the changes represent a ‘substantial variation of service’ and therefore require a full public consultation.

This is what the campaigners have called for all along and will continue to push for, as well as ‘asking our local councillors to support us by helping to bring this about’.

In a statement, the Whalton Unit Campaign Group said: “Members are very disappointed in the decision of the CCG.

“Although it wasn’t really unexpected, as we understood from the start that the closure of the unit was made on financial grounds and forms part of a national policy to centralise NHS treatment, we had still hoped that the strength of feeling of the public should have been taken into account.

“We also believe that we should have had better support from the elected representatives on both town and county councils.

“It will now be the case that frail and elderly patients from Morpeth and surrounding towns and villages will have to go to a ward in Wansbeck, instead of a step-down facility which felt more like home.

“Visitors will find it much more troublesome to get to Wansbeck and patients will no longer enjoy the privacy of a single-occupant room.”

It added: “We wait with interest to see whether a private nursing home takes over the premises of the Whalton Unit, as we feel that this is the direction of travel for the elderly of our region. Those who can afford to pay for a private room will still have one and those without a house to sell or substantial savings will instead end their days on a public ward, with no privacy for themselves or their loved ones in their last days.”

The group also thanked those who took part in the public engagement and signed its petition, saying that ‘it was the public’s strength of feeling on these matters which led to the recommendations agreed by the CCG’.

Dr Graham Syers, clinical director of primary care at the CCG, said: “We appreciate that local people who have campaigned for the return of the Whalton Unit to Morpeth will be disappointed by this decision, however, the governing body was satisfied that, due to the improvements in patient safety since the move to Wansbeck hospital, this is the right thing to do.

“This is coupled with the planned improvements in the community which will see better support in people’s own homes and in nursing homes alongside specialist palliative care and enhancements to the environment at Wansbeck hospital.

“We would like to thank the campaign group for its input and everyone who has taken the time to give their views as part of the engagement process – this was a comprehensive exercise and mirrored what would happen in a full public consultation.

“We will continue to work closely with the trust to ensure people in Morpeth continue to have access to high-quality care in hospital and in the community.”

Marion Dickson, executive director of nursing at Northumbria Healthcare, added: “We welcome the decision by the CCG and are committed to working with them to make improvements to care in the community in Morpeth and to the ward at Wansbeck hospital.

“We will continue to provide a transport service for people who would find it difficult to travel from Morpeth to Wansbeck hospital to visit relatives and would encourage families to speak to ward staff to arrange this.

“The improvements in patient care since the move to Wansbeck have been demonstrable with the boost to our nursing teams – in numbers and in skill mix – also having a positive impact on the unit and on staff morale.

“While our patient experience figures have dipped slightly, these still remain high overall and we will continue to monitor these to ensure that our patients have the best experience of care possible.”