Permanent move recommended for Whalton Unit

NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) governing body has today agreed with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s recommendation to take steps to permanently relocate the Whalton Unit to Wansbeck General Hospital.

At a meeting in Morpeth held in public, the governing body made the decision to retain the unit at Wansbeck hospital where it has been temporarily based since December 2018.

The governing body was told that the relocation of the unit from Morpeth to Wansbeck hospital has improved a number of aspects of patient care and safety. This has 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, the meeting also heard that more nursing staff had been recruited for the unit since the relocation and more consistent nursing care is provided through an improved skill mix across the team.

The recommendation will now go to Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee which will decide whether the move is a significant variation in service and a public consultation is required.

The decision follows an extensive period of engagement which has seen around 800 people give their views through independent research and a series of drop-in sessions held in Morpeth.

The CCG has sought assurance from the trust to continue to offer transport support for relatives and carers to travel to visit patients in the Whalton Unit at Wansbeck hospital, improve the ward environment at Wansbeck to include rehabilitation space and multi-disciplinary working.

Members also called on the trust to work together with the CCG 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.

In addition, the CCG asked the trust to jointly develop a palliative care bed model to enable patients to receive end-of-life care in local nursing homes with specialist nursing support.

Dr Graham Syers, clinical director of primary care at the CCG, said: “We appreciate that local people who have campaigned for the return of the Whalton Unit to Morpeth will be disappointed by this decision, however, the governing body was satisfied that, due to the improvements in patient safety since the move to Wansbeck hospital, this is the right thing to do.

“This is coupled with the planned improvements in the community which will see better support in people’s own homes and in nursing homes alongside specialist palliative care and enhancements to the environment at Wansbeck hospital.

“We would like to thank the campaign group for its input and everyone who has taken the time to give their views as part of the engagement process – this was a comprehensive exercise and mirrored what would happen in a full public consultation.

“We will continue to work closely with the trust to ensure people in Morpeth continue to have access to high quality care in hospital and in the community.”

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 CCG and are committed to working with them to make improvements to care in the community in Morpeth and to the ward at Wansbeck hospital.

“We will continue to provide a transport service for people who would find it difficult to travel from Morpeth to Wansbeck hospital to visit relatives and would encourage families to speak to ward staff to arrange this.

“The improvements in patient care since the move to Wansbeck have been demonstrable with the boost to our nursing teams – in numbers and in skill mix – also having a positive impact on the unit and on staff morale. While our patient experience figures have dipped slightly, these still remain high overall and we will continue to monitor these to ensure that our patients have the best experience of care possible.”

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