Richardson Hospital
Richardson Hospital

URGENT after-hour GP services may be removed from Teesdale because they are not being used enough, health bosses say.

But people in the dale claim the urgent care service at Richardson Hospital, in Barnard Castle, is not being used because no one knows about it, and people dialling 111 for help are often referred to Bishop Auckland.

A search on NHS Choices website also shows Bishop Auckland as the closest service to Teesdale and no listing is made for the service at Richardson Hospital.

Urgent cares services were established in Teesdale and Weardale in 2016, providing access to an appointment from 6pm to 8pm on weekdays and from 8am to 1pm at weekends. They are for people who need urgent medical attention but it’s not a life-threatening situation.

A new report by Durham Dales, Darlington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is recommending the service be closed from Teesdale and Weardale because it is not cost effective.

But Teesdale county councillor Richard Bell has blamed poor publicity, saying many locals are simply unaware.

Cllr Bell said: “I will be arguing for its retention, because it has always been poorly publicised. My family have been sent via 111 to Bishop Auckland Urgent Care Centre twice in the last three months.

“If you go onto the NHS Choices website and input Barnard Castle nothing comes up. As it stands it looks like they are 

Cllr Bell plans to raise his objection to Durham County Council’s health scrutiny committee, of which he is a member.

The proposed withdrawal of the service comes as the Friends of Richardson Hospital and other campaigners have been trying to promote the hospital and its clinics, which include podiatry, audiology and cardio-rehabilitation.

Bed numbers were reduced from 24 to 16 on the Starling Ward last year due to a “significant drop in occupancy”.

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There is still 14 years to go on the Richardson Hospital’s PFI (Private Finance Initiative) and County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust is paying full rent on the building, even though the top floor of the hospital is empty.

The clinical commissioning group, which pays for services, revealed plans to withdraw the out-of-hours doctor service in a report to Durham County Council.

A CCG spokesperson said: “Based on low demand and patient feedback gathered earlier this year, the CCG is proposing changes are made to the current service, which potentially could reduce the number of hubs in the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield areas.”

A formal public consultation on the proposal is expected to be held later this year. It will mean people in Teesdale would have to travel to Bishop Auckland hospital for out-of-hours GP services. Stanhope health centre’s service is also due to be closed.

Since it was established, the cost of providing the service in Barnard Castle was found to be £268.86 for each appointment compared with £59.47 at Bishop Auckland, the report said. During 12 months, 578 people used the service in Barnard Castle compared to 2,988 in Bishop Auckland. The report added: “The data does suggest that the low utilisation rates of the rural hubs result in a very high cost per attendance which could not be considered value for money.”

The NHS did not comment on claims about poor publicity and that people from Teesdale were being directed to Bishop Auckland.

Barnard Castle town councillor Judi Sutherland, who forms part of a reference committee established by the CCG to look into services, said there was a general feeling that the service is not publicised well enough.

She added: “It certainly looks like they are not making any effort to make the hospital better used.

“They say there has been a consultation but how would anyone know about it? We are on a reference group and we were not aware of it. We will not let this go.”

She said in some cases it was fair that people are sent to Bishop Auckland because it has more facilities such as X-rays, but in most cases people should be directed to Richardson Hospital.