The Whalton Unit in Morpeth is relocating to Wansbeck General Hospital for the winter period.
The 30 beds at the inpatient ward, which delivers specialist rehabilitation for frail older patients, will move to its new, temporary, home in Ward 8 at the hospital in Ashington from Wednesday, December 19.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said the decision has been taken to ensure that staffing is as resilient as possible for winter, but a petition has been launched by Morpeth resident Barbara Ross calling on the body to ‘consult with the people of Morpeth regarding the implications of the removal of the Whalton Unit to Wansbeck Hospital in Ashington’.
A trust spokesman added that the relocation will be reviewed next summer and a ‘transport solution’ will be in place for those disadvantaged by the new location.
The online petition includes the following text: ‘Consideration needs to be given to whether a ward in a general hospital can meet the rehabilitation and end-of-life needs of elderly and vulnerable patients and their families in the same way as a small unit within the community’.
‘Removing a valued amenity without either public consultation or adequate notice causes anxiety, fear and lack of confidence at a time when we should be seeking to build confidence and resilience within a community, especially amongst its most vulnerable members’.
To see the petition, go to you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/consult-the-public-about-the-removal-of-the-whalton-unit-from-morpeth
Usage figures since April 2017 shows that only around half of patients staying at the Whalton Unit are from the Morpeth area. Almost 30 per cent live in areas that are equidistant to Wansbeck General Hospital – with nearly one in five living closer to the new location.
The trust spokesman said the unit has faced significant recruitment issues for both nurses and doctors and the subsequent use of locum doctor and bank and agency nurse cover has made continuity of care challenging, and being based within Wansbeck General Hospital will make it easier for inpatients to access other hospital services such as diagnostic tests that currently involve them being transported, something which can be difficult for frail older patients.
Outpatient, diagnostic and community services provided at the Morpeth NHS Centre are unaffected by the move.
Dr Jeremy Rushmer, executive medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We would like to reassure the local community that the much-valued service provided from the Whalton Unit will be transferred in full and we remain committed to providing the highest standards of care to our patients in the new, temporary, location.
“The multi-disciplinary team, which are the cornerstone of this service and have vital links to follow-up care in the community, will relocate to ensure that patients requiring further rehabilitation in hospital are able to receive this without interruption.
“Winter is an extremely busy time for the NHS, with increased numbers of frail older patients requiring admission and subsequent rehabilitation. For these reasons, we must ensure that we have appropriate staffing in place where demand will be highest.
“Being able to draw on the wider staffing pool already in place at Wansbeck General Hospital will aid our efforts to do this.
“We fully appreciate that people from the Morpeth area may find it difficult to travel to the Wansbeck hospital to visit loved ones and so we’d urge anyone with any transport issues to call us on 01670 529108.”