Regular readers will know it is very rare for me to write about the same topic two weeks in a row. But the Friarage remains our most important local issue and the one I am most focused on.
Following my lengthy column last week, I wanted to update you on the further steps I have been taking to try to maintain A&E provision at the Friarage – like you, I don’t want to see these temporary changes becoming permanent, and I’ll keep fighting with everything I can.
Firstly, I have organised a public meeting with the senior decision makers at the Trust/Hospital. This will take place at Northallerton School and Sixth Form College next Friday at 6.15pm (doors open at 5.45pm). It is no good us just talking amongst ourselves, in my view it is important that those making these decisions can explain and be held accountable for them. I never just take what I am told by the Trust at face value – I question and probe them, and I want you to have that same opportunity. The event will also allow us as a community to demonstrate our strength of feeling on this issue.
I am grateful to the two doctors for participating. The Deputy Chief Executive of the South Tees Trust, Dr Adrian Clements, is also the Friarage’s Medical Director, and is the key person at the Trust on this process. Dr James Dunbar, whose D&S Q&A you read last week, is the Friarage’s Clinical Director, responsible for what the hospital delivers on the ground. They are absolutely the two best people for us to be talking to.
Secondly, I am to personally hire a leading healthcare consultancy to provide us with independent advice on this situation. I have tasked them with doing a comprehensive review of how emergency care provision is done in other hospitals like ours across the country. What models work elsewhere? Is what we are being told about recruitment challenges genuine? Could the Trust do a better job of sharing existing consultants between the James Cook and Friarage? Not being medical experts, I want us to have objective, credible evidence and demonstrable alternatives which we can then take to the Trust to bolster our case.
Thirdly, speaking to other doctors and NHS managers across the country, I identified an excellent and proven UK recruitment agency, who specialise in recruiting overseas doctors for hard-to-fill vacancies. I have already introduced the agency to South Tees and will keep urging the Trust to fully explore this route before making any permanent decisions.
Lastly, I want to reinforce a couple of points I made in my previous column where I have pushed for further clarification.
I was keen to fully understand how many people will be affected by these changes. It has been confirmed to me again that around 90 per cent of patients who currently receive emergency treatment at the Friarage will continue to do so under the new model.
In terms of whether this decision is being driven purely by money, it has been confirmed to me that the new model will actually cost £1.7m MORE to run each year.
And there is one rumour circulating that I am very happy to scotch. I successfully sought assurances that the MRI scanner which you and the wonderful Friends of the Friarage Hospital worked so hard for will not be moved to the James Cook. It is staying at the Friarage, as it should.
I hope to see many of you at the public meeting next week.