NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have today welcomed the decision that the Whalton Unit is to be permanently relocated to Wansbeck General Hospital.
Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee has agreed with the recommendation from the CCG’s governing body and the trust to retain the unit at Wansbeck hospital where it has been temporarily based since December 2018.
Members were informed that the relocation of the unit from Morpeth to Wansbeck hospital had improved a number of aspects of patient care and safety and eased nurse staffing pressures.
The committee decided that the move was not a substantial change in service delivery given that the service still exists for local communities to access.
Members, however, sought assurance from the CCG and trust that there would be planned improvements to community and palliative care in the Morpeth area and that the privacy and dignity of patients would be taken into account.
In addition, improvements are to be made to the ward environment at Wansbeck hospital and transport support for relatives and carers to travel to visit patients will continue.
The decision follows an extensive period of engagement during September which saw around 800 people give their views through independent research and a series of drop-in sessions. Committee members also called on the CCG and trust to carry out on-going engagement in the community over the next few months.
Dr Graham Syers, clinical director of primary care at the CCG, said: “Our governing body firmly believed that due to the improvements in patient care that have resulted from transferring the Whalton Unit to Wansbeck hospital that it should remain in the new location, and we are pleased that our decision has been backed by the health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee.
“We would like to reiterate our thanks to the campaign group and members of the community for their contributions throughout this process and, while this decision is not what they wanted to hear, we are particularly grateful for their input during the engagement which replicated what a full public consultation would look like.
“Working closely with the trust, we will now press ahead with joint plans to improve care in the Morpeth community and in people’s own homes, including delivering specialist palliative care in nursing homes, while supporting work to enhance the environment at Wansbeck hospital.”
Marion Dickson, executive director of nursing, midwifery, allied health professionals, surgery and community care at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “We welcome today’s decision by the health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee and will now progress our plans, in partnership with the CCG, to better support our patients in Morpeth in the community and at home and make improvements to the Whalton Unit’s permanent home at Wansbeck hospital.
“We would like to remind the public of our transport service and would urge people who would find it difficult to travel from Morpeth to Wansbeck hospital to visit relatives in the unit to make use of it by speaking to the ward team.
“While there have been significant improvements in patient care and to nurse recruitment and skill mix since the unit moved to Wansbeck hospital, we remain committed to ensuring that this continues to the case and that our patients receive the highest standards of care.”
The improvements to patient care and safety following the move have included patients receiving more timely and thorough investigations, fewer transfers of patients back to The Northumbria hospital for emergency care and fewer episodes of harm associated with incidents due to greater observation of patients.
While the original move was instigated due to nurse staffing issues and an expected increase in activity over the winter period, more nursing staff had been recruited for the unit since the relocation and more consistent nursing care is now provided through an improved skill mix across the team.
The trust and CCG are to improve care in the Morpeth community including jointly investing in more community matrons to support additional nursing home beds in the town and allied health professionals to better support frail elderly patients within their own homes to prevent unnecessary admissions and facilitate earlier discharges home.
They are also jointly developing a palliative care bed model to enable patients to receive end-of-life care in local nursing homes with specialist nursing support.
The improvements to the ward environment at Wansbeck hospital will include areas for rehabilitation and multi-disciplinary working.