RETHINK: Richardson Hospital
RETHINK: Richardson Hospital

HEALTH officials are being urged to rethink proposals to remove urgent care services from Teesdale.

Durham County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee met last Friday to discuss plans to review urgent care hubs by Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Members criticised the CCG, which pays for services, for lack of publicity about the service at Richardson Hospital, in Barnard Castle, which is said to be “in low demand.”

However, it is claimed that the service is not being used because few people know about it.

The community hospital is one of nine hubs, providing extended and enhanced GP opening times. The appointment-only service is available from 6pm to 8pm on weekdays and 8am to 1pm on weekends.

The CCG is proposing to close the service in Barnard Castle and Weardale, leaving a centralised service at Bishop Auckland. The plans have been made following feedback from 346 patients.

On behalf of Barnard Castle Town Council, Cllr Judi Sutherland attended the meeting. As a member of a reference group for the hospital, she said the group had repeatedly criticised the County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust for its lack of communication about services available on site.

She said: “It is no surprise that this service is underused because no one knows it exists. Members of the public have told us many times that when they call NHS 111 and are advised that they need urgent care, they are directed to Bishop Auckland. It seems the trust has not told 111 that there is an urgent care service in Barnard Castle.

“This is not an occasional occurrence. How can you expect people in Barnard Castle to know that this service exists when 111 operators don’t know it exists?”

Cllr Sutherland said she felt that the hospital was being “deliberately run down” by the trust. She said: “I urge the committee not to accept the recommendations and urge the trust to go back to the community and tell people what is available. You want to create an urban health service. It is not good enough. People in Teesdale pay their taxes just like anyone else. I don’t trust you and I don’t trust the trust.”

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The CCG’s director of commissioning, Sarah Burns, explained that during the past 15 months, there had been “low use of rural hubs” with the Bishop Auckland site being the most popular.

Ms Burns said: “Patients will be referred to a hub based on the condition. If a patient needs to see a GP they will go to Bishop Auckland. If they can see an advanced nurse practitioner, they will be seen at a rural hub. We make sure we can keep people in the area as much as possible. They are not redirecting you from a local service inappropriately. It is based on your need.”

Ms Burns reassured the committee that the CCG was not reducing services to save money.

The CCG said it planned to carry out a six to eight week consultation. However, councillors called for the services to be given more of an online presence as well as posters in surgeries and pharmacies to inform patients.

Cllr Richard Bell proposed that the consultation period was halted. He said: “It is not surprising that it is not being well used as it is not publicised. I think it is a consultation based on false premise.”

Cllr Ted Henderson said: “It is okay if you provide a service but if people don’t know it is there, what is the use of it? It is not being used because people don’t know it is there.

There are 35 clinics and you’re lucky if anyone knows three or four of them. Things have to change.”

Ms Burns informed the committee that all services had been publicised in the same way with the NHS Talk Before You Walk national campaign. A unanimous vote was cast by committee members in favour of Cllr Bell’s recommendation.

The CCG will report back at the next meeting at County Hall in September.