FRESH hope has been raised that Hartlepool’s hospital could be saved after the new boss of the NHS dramatically said care should be delivered locally.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens says the NHS must end “mass centralisation” and instead expand its local services to treat people in their own communities.
His comments fly in the face of the vision for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s long-awaited £272m new Wynyard hospital, which would replace the hospitals in Hartlepool and North Tees, in Stockton, with a 2017 target opening.
Mr Stevens’ comments have been welcomed by town residents, and campaigners say his claims echo what they have said since the start of the long-running hospital saga.
But Trust chiefs say they are “totally committed to care closer to home”.
Mr Stevens, who began the role last month, said: “A number of other countries have found it possible to run viable local hospitals serving smaller communities than sometimes we think are sustainable in the NHS.
“Most of western Europe has hospitals which are able to serve their local communities, without everything having to be centralised.”
He warned the complex care systems outside of hospitals must change, and says investment is needed in community services for the elderly to stop spiralling numbers ending up in hospital.
He added: “You cannot have a modern health service that is not treating older patients with dignity and compassion, supporting them at home and ensuring targeted prevention [of ill health].
He said there is a “big opportunity to reorganise” the “too complicated and too fragmented” service.
“If you were starting from scratch you would not design community services like that,” said Mr Stevens.
On Wednesday at the NHS Confederation’s conference in Liverpool, he will outline new models of care to build community services around small hospitals and meet the needs of an ageing population.
It could see hospitals taking over the running of some GP services, and more close working between specialist and community care.
Save Our Hospital chairman Keith Fisher said: “It may come to pass what Lord Darzi said originally, that the one-site option is a non-runner.
“I do think it’s time the local trust had the bottle to admit they made a massive mistake, particularly about our A&E, and to bring that back immediately.
“Everything revolves around that - including all the problems with the ambulance service.
“We in Hartlepool have always said we wanted a local hospital.
“Now here’s a very senior man saying ‘it’s better to be local’.
“It’s not working, going to Stockton, it’s a case of ‘I told you so, let’s go back to square one’.”
Jean and James Grayson, who use both hospital sites, welcomed Mr Stevens’ comments.
Mrs Grayson, 78, recently had to travel the 14 miles to the Stockton hospital for an endoscopy to investigate diabetes-related stomach problems.
Mr Grayson, a retired director of Camerons Brewery, receives treatment at the Hartlepool site for problems with his hands.
Mrs Grayson, from West Park, said: “Mr Stevens’ big thought is they’ve got to stop closing all these hospitals the way they are closing ours, where it is going to be centralised on Teesside.
“Mr Stevens seems very good, he is absolutely adamant that the NHS should be changed to look after people in communities in smaller ways.”
But a North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust spokeswoman said: “We’re totally committed to care closer to or in people’s homes.
“Today more than 90 per cent of all healthcare that happens in Hartlepool takes place in homes, GP surgeries and local health facilities and we expect this trend to continue.
“We’re working with our commissioners as part of momentum to provide integrated care so people can be looked after locally as they are recovering from their illnesses.”