LAST Thursday was a hugely significant day for two reasons, both related to the future of our local hospital.
First, and most obviously, was the decision by the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust to pause development work on the new hospital at Wynyard.
The Government suspended public funding for the new hospital in June 2010 and have offered no progress or alternatives since.
With Ministers, it was always a question of “we’re evaluating but a decision is imminent”. It’s been strung along for the entire length of a Parliament.
But the announcement by the Trust is very significant. After almost two decades of uncertainty and delay about hospital services north of the Tees, the idea of a hospital ever being built at Wynyard can finally be put to bed. It’s simply never going to happen. Let’s draw a line under it.
But this can’t mean hospital services can be centralised at North Tees.
The location is grossly inappropriate for the people of Hartlepool. The lack of real transport infrastructure and poor services mean that it is very difficult to get to, not just as a patient, but as a visitor.
I’ve never believed that a centralised hospital service could ever be at North Tees. The Trust now needs to move quickly – Wynyard is not going ahead and so services have to be moved back to Hartlepool.
But the second event of last Thursday is also hugely significant. NHS England published its Five Year Forward View, an assessment as to what the health service will look like in the future.
It’s a tremendous and very positive document, confident that with the right Government and proper investment the values of the NHS – commitment to universal healthcare, free at the point of need and irrespective of age, health, race, social status or ability to pay – will continue in the 21st century.
The document talks about an emerging consensus amongst patient groups, clinicians, local communities and frontline NHS leaders.
The Five Year Forward View explicitly mentions the closure of smaller district general hospitals, like Hartlepool.
It talks about how previously, smaller hospitals should be merged or closed.
However, the document now breaks with that thinking and talks about sustaining local hospital services by providing new organisational and funding models.
It states how it wants to look at ways in which smaller acute hospitals can achieve benefits of scale without having to centralise services.
It mentions how GPs can centralise on the site of a local hospital in order to combat difficulties in GP recruitment, exactly as we have seen in Hartlepool.
It mentions how there needs to be better integration between health and social care, primary care and care in hospitals and how NHS staff could take over the running of local hospitals.
I think this is a lifeline for a thriving future for the local hospital. It demonstrates that centralisation is now almost old-fashioned, and better integration of other services can provide the future.
Simply put, it means that given the local will, and I’m very sure there is one, Hartlepool Hospital can be retained.
I have asked Parliamentary Questions about this and written to both Alan Foster at the Trust and the Head of the Commissioning Group, asking how we put this into action.
Wynyard is dead, but it is important that patients in Hartlepool get the best possible healthcare and that, according to the most modern NHS thinking, is by retaining the local hospital.