NHS bosses are being urged to get on with plans for a £25million new hospital on the site of Berwick Infirmary, while ensuring it has the services patients need.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), last week announced plans to redevelop the current infirmary site.
The decision comes six years after plans to redevelop the site were first announced, only to be put on hold and eventually dropped as other potential sites were looked at.
Local health campaigners have welcomed the news, while expressing hope that the new hospital will provide the level of facilities needed to put a stop to patients travelling more than 50 miles to access services.
A spokesman for the A Better Hospital for Berwick campaign group said: “The announcement sounds very encouraging. People will no doubt be pleased, initially.
“Stripped of the positive spin, however, the plan still promises just the same services. There is ‘a view to incorporating more’. A ‘view’ is not a commitment! We need to guarantee more services.
“That would ease the burden on patients suffering long journeys to access services
further away. They say ‘we will ensure we track and publish the number of miles patients have to travel on a yearly basis, with a clear aim to make significant reductions in this travel for patients’.
“But it seems silly to wait until after the hospital has been built (with the same services it has now) before they start to monitor this problem.
“We keep asking them to do a statistical analysis of referral rates and travel times based on the year-on-year data they already have. Then they could identify which additional services are most needed, right now, and plan properly and robustly for the new hospital to provide them.”
Berwick county councillors, aware of many false dawns in the past, have urged NHS chiefs to get on with the scheme.
Coun Georgina Hill, member for Berwick East, “This is obviously potentially really good news for the town but there can be no more delays or u-turns.
“A representative of the Trust has told me that they are absolutely determined to start building the new hospital as soon as possible.
“Given the history, which has fuelled public cynicism, residents will only really believe it when they see the spades go in to the ground.”
Last month, she had addressed the council’s health and wellbeing overall scrutiny committee over speculation that the Seton Hall site had been ruled out, describing it as ‘yet another u-turn’ by the Trust.
Coun Catherine Seymour, member for Berwick North, said: “Now that the decision to build the new infirmary for Berwick on its original site, where it has served the community for 150 years, after other options and sites were explored, let’s hope that this new build starts soon!
“There have been already some investigative archaeological work and architectural plans drawn up and viewed at past presentations in 2014, that have been seen for this site, so it must help to prevent any further delays.
“Many residents I have spoken to are determined that all services and beds must be retained and it is crucial that other services and consultant provision are returned that have been lost over the years, so I will continue to press for these.”
Previous plans for an integrated health and leisure development on the Swan Centre site were abandoned in the face of heavy criticism.
The Seton Hall site was ruled out because of highways issues and concerns about smells from the nearby sewage works.
Berwick resident Marion Dickson, interim executive director of nursing and midwifery for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The current site was unsuitable for a co-located hospital/leisure facility but given the trust is now moving forward with a stand-alone hospital the site is, as previously determined, appropriate.
“Through a combination of new technology (telemedicine, etc) and new ways of working, it is committed to doing all it (safely) can to reduce the number of journeys taken by local residents.
“Berwick minor injuries unit will continue to operate 24/7.
“A full-scale A&E service would be neither safe nor sustainable. There will be 20 inpatient beds.
“The Trust is well aware there are frustrations locally that this has taken so long – it more than empathises – but can assure everyone that this project is a priority to the trust and a key part of its five-year plan.”