UNIT: Campaign aims are covered

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I have read with interest the letters by Morpeth town councillors and campaigners in respect of the relocation of the Whalton Unit.

I think the issue has become somewhat confused and I would like to clarify a few points as a county councillor representing residents and families that may be affected by the potential changes to the provision of this vital service.

The relocation of the Whalton Unit from Morpeth to Ashington has been described as temporary by the local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). It has stated that the primary reason was because of having insufficient specialist medical staff on site. I think we must take that at face value.

At present, there is no suggestion that the relocation is to be permanent, but the CCG has said it will review matters as early as March. This means that, at least at present, there are no proposals to permanently relocate the Whalton Unit from Morpeth.

The relevant legislation and national regulations on changes to NHS service provision are very clear: where any “substantial service change” is proposed, a full consultation with the local authority and wider public is required.

The guidelines on what constitutes a “substantial service change” state that the relocation of a service would normally qualify.

I have checked my understanding of the legislation and regulations with my colleague Coun Veronica Jones, the county council cabinet member responsible for health and adult social care, and she has confirmed that any proposed permanent relocation of the Whalton Unit would, indeed, precipitate a full local authority and public consultation.

Accordingly, it seems that the campaign group’s admirable aims are already met by the procedural framework in place.

I hope the confirmation that (a) no proposals have yet been made by the CCG for the permanent relocation of the Whalton Unit (and may never be made), and that (b) if any such proposals arise a full local authority and public consultation must be conducted, helps ease people’s minds about the situation and sets the record straight.

Coun David J Towns

Northumberland County Council Pegswood Division