Berwick MP urges NHS to improve cross-border service

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith is urging NHS call handlers to use Scottish ambulances if it means emergencies in the Berwick area can be dealt with more quickly.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 9th March 2015, 12:43 pm
Sir Alan Beith wants NHS bodies to improve cross-border cooperation.
Sir Alan Beith wants NHS bodies to improve cross-border cooperation.

His comments follow a meeting with health minister Jane Ellison MP and Scotland Office minister David Mundell, at which he raised concerns about access patients in north Northumberland and the Borders have to health services across the border.

Sir Alan said: “Patients should not be turned away from either Borders General or Berwick Infirmary because they live on the other side of the border, unless there are good medical reasons to refer them to a hospital further away.

“The health ministers were very supportive of my view that on this issue. Health bodies should listen to the views of patients and should not put bureaucratic obstacles in their way.

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“They have assured me that there has been no instruction from the NHS nationally that patients cannot be treated across the border, and also that in emergency cases it is up to the judgement of the ambulance staff on the spot as to which hospital the patient is taken to, according to clinical need.”

His comments come amid growing concerns that Berwick’s ambulance service is under-resourced. The town has one 24-hour ambulance crew and a second which operates during the day.

Health bodies are under increasing pressure to act following the tragic death of a 16-year-old Eyemouth boy in a road accident in Berwick last month.

On the night of the tragedy the crew could not be disturbed when the 999 call came in, meaning that a paramedic 17 miles away in Wooler was dispatched instead. The paramedic arrived 23 minutes after the 999 call and informed the Berwick crew, which attended after 26. The target response time is eight minutes.

A petition of 4,000 names demanding better ambulance performance in the town was discussed at the last North East Ambulance Service board meeting.

Sir Alan added: “I have been worried that myths and misleading advice are causing real problems for patients in the Berwick area. I welcome the assurances I have been given and I now want to see them carried out locally and reflected in the advice given to GPs, ambulance staff, and the call handlers in the ambulance control centre.

“Call handlers also need to understand when they need to seek the help of the Scottish ambulance service if they can reach an emergency or urgent case more quickly because the Berwick ambulance is not available.

“We also discussed the problems for patients who have been told that they do not qualify for transport to appointments in distant hospitals, even when they are unable to drive or get a lift; ministers are discussing how this problem can be reduced by making more treatments available locally and by ensuring that the GP can flag up to the ambulance service the fact that a particular patient may need transport help to get to appointments in Wansbeck or Newcastle hospitals.”