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NHS campaign group launch fresh legal challenge

Campaigners battling to save a hospital A&E department has launched a fresh legal challenge after a proposal to maintain the department was omitted from a public consultation.

The Save Friarage Hospital group was established after South Tees NHS Foundation Trust decided to suspend the A&E department at Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital and to replace it with an urgent treatment centre at the end of March last year.

Irwin Mitchell solicitors were instructed to act on their behalf and following legal submissions, the High Court granted permission for a judicial review into the decision. However, the judicial review did not go ahead after the NHS Trust and the NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) agreed to hold a full consultation into the future of services at the hospital. A full public consultation took place from September13, 2019, to January 17. Lawyers have again written to the CCG expressing concerns that the consultation did not include an option for the A&E department to be reinstated. Instead, the options put forward to the public were for the department to be replaced with either a 24-hour urgent treatment centre or a 16-hour urgent treatment centre. But health bosses said to include this option would have been “inappropriate and misleading” as it is not currently possible for the trust to provide a full A&E service.

Helen Smith from Irwin Mitchell said: “Throughout this process, we have stressed that we completely understand and appreciate the many challenges that the NHS has faced in recent times. However, that is no excuse for failing to properly consult on a key service within a community. For the fresh consultation not to include an option of maintaining A&E services is very worrying and seemingly just ignores the legitimate concerns of campaigners. The options put forward for consultation are extremely narrow and do not provide the public with an opportunity to have a say on the fundamental change to service provision, which is the removal of the A&E and associated services from the Friarage Hospital. We have written to health bosses arguing that a full consultation with an option of reinstating A&E services is held otherwise the campaign group may take legal action.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG said: “We are faced with a national shortage of doctors in emergency and critical care and it has not been possible to recruit those clinicians with the necessary skills to be able to run a safe A&E unit at the Friarage Hospital. The situation is not likely to improve any time soon, so the decision was taken not to include this option during the public consultation. It would have been inappropriate and misleading for the CCG and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to put this model forward when it is impossible to deliver amid such severe recruitment challenges. We are aware of the Save the Friarage group’s views about A&E and those comments will now be considered alongside the views of thousands of people who participated in the public consultation, with a report going to our Governing Body later this Spring. “We firmly believe the Urgent Treatment Centre is innovative and ground-breaking and delivers high quality care for the majority of people who would have used A&E at the hospital. Furthermore, we believe the consultation process was robust and thorough and stands up to scrutiny.”

Irwin Mitchell argues that the consultation is unlawful on several grounds. These include that the consultation breaches the statutory duty which NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire & Whitby CCG is under and on principles of procedural fairness. Campaigners had been led to believe from a pre-consultation business case published in June 2019 that the consultation would include a third option, namely reinstatement of the A&E department in at least a limited form. Other concerns related to the consultation included the idea that more could been done to recruit the key staff needed, as well as issues linked to the effect of such changes on the elderly.

Holly Wilkinson, campaign lead of the Save Friarage Hospital group, said: “We are hugely concerned by how the consultation has been carried out, particularly as it feels like the decision to switch to two options was seemingly made behind closed doors. The difference between the two urgent treatment centre options is so slight – literally a difference of eight hours. The consultation doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the loss of the emergency department would be a fundamental change to the hospital and its services. This would have a major impact on the wider community and would mean patients having to travel miles way to places such as Middlesbrough or Darlington for emergency treatment. It’s so disappointing that after months of work we find ourselves in this situation again. The local NHS authorities need to listen to the community and work with us on this issue, but once again we’re battling to be heard.”



Article originally appeared on The Northern Echo

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