D&S column: a golden opportunity to change perceptions about the future of the Friarage

AS reported in the news pages of the D&S last week, I have strongly made the case for the Friarage Hospital to retain the 24/7 opening hours of its successful Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) following the completion of the recent public consultation exercise.

I believe our local health chiefs have a golden opportunity to change public perceptions of what is happening to our cherished local hospital and by committing to retain the round-the-clock operation they would go a long way to help restore public confidence in the emergency treatment offered there.

By all accounts, the UTC has worked well since its establishment in March last year. I have come across many instances of constituents who have experienced great care there and that anecdotal evidence has been backed up by the data the hospital keeps on the numbers and types of patients treated at the new UTC.

For example, the numbers attending the hospital for emergency treatment in the period up to Dec 16, 2019 – 14,424 – are almost identical to those attending in the same period in 2018 – 14,537. Moreover, the numbers of children receiving their emergency treatment at the Friarage has increased by 54 per cent. That’s 1,258 more children under the age of 18 being looked after at the Friarage who under the old A&E - which didn’t meet clinical standards for treating children - would have had to be treated elsewhere.

We were all deeply disappointed to lose our A&E status last year. But now, I do feel it is important that we focus on what I believe is a promising future for the Friarage and ensuring that future gets delivered.

Firstly, the attitude of the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust towards the Friarage has changed. When I first became your MP, the Friarage had no representation on the Trust’s board. I told the Trust that was entirely wrong and we now have a “Friarage man” - Dr Adrian Clements – at the top in the form of medical director and deputy CEO.

Secondly, back in 2017 when the difficulties over doctor recruitment – the difficulties which ultimately led to the loss of the A&E – first emerged, it was clear to me we had to go back to training more doctors at the Friarage. That’s important because where doctors train influences where they subsequently work.

My pressing for more doctor training places at Hull York Medical School led to an increase of 90 medical students a year starting their training there in 2019 and many of them will be placed at the Friarage as part of a course which specifically exposes the students to providing care in a rural setting.

The first cohort of six students arrived at the Friarage towards the end of 2019 and those numbers are going to grow to around 50. That’s a huge boost for the hospital and its future.

Finally, we should acknowledge the excellence of the model of care that Dr Clements, the Friarage’s clinical director Dr James Dunbar, and their colleagues have created. The new UTC is setting a national benchmark for emergency care in a small rural hospital.

That was one of the reasons why Simon Stevens, the man who runs the NHS nationally, accepted my invitation to visit the Friarage at the end of last year. He was very impressed by what he saw and heard from the staff running the centre. Other small rural hospitals around the country are looking with interest at what has been achieved here.

The standard set by the Friarage UTC is something we should be proud of and, in my view, it is really important that it is available 24/7.