Ever since I was first elected as your MP, the Friarage Hospital has always been my number one local priority. The roots of this commitment stem from the affection we all have for this much-loved institution that plays such a critical role in looking after us all.
That is why I was so pleased to hear the recent announcement of £35.5m investment in new operating theatres at the Friarage. It is without doubt some of the best news we have had about our local hospital in my seven years as your MP.
This most recent investment has given me, and I know many others who rely on the hospital, peace of mind in knowing that our great local hospital has had its future secured. It is such a fantastic result for all of us who love the hospital and its staff.
My commitment to the Friarage is longstanding and I, like many of you, have my family’s own experience of using its services. Only a parent can know the feeling when your child falls ill in the middle of the night and then the reassurance of having excellent hospital care nearby to get help, advice and treatment. Ensuring that this excellent care is available to everyone in our area is an absolute priority for me as your MP, so that we can all get the care we need.
I am so proud that we have all managed to secure this new investment, and I hope that I can take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those hardworking doctors and nurses who have played an instrumental role in securing this new funding.
In addition to this, the new surgical hub – the plans for which I supported in Government – will almost double the number of planned operations carried out here in Northallerton and is the latest in a series of new investments at the Friarage.
This includes a new £5m rapid diagnostic unit which is due to open very shortly. This investment follows the new ophthalmology and dialysis services and the education centre. Before that there was also the opening of the £10m Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Cancer Centre.
All of these considerable investments represent real progress in ensuring a sustainable future for our hospital after some difficult times in the past. The loss of the consultant-led maternity service in 2014 and the changes to emergency care in 2017/18 made some people wonder if the Friarage could survive.
My job as your MP was to ensure that didn’t happen.
Firstly, I made the point to the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – which runs the hospital – that it was vital that the Friarage had representation on the Trust’s board. At the time it didn’t and I felt the hospital needed an influential voice to speak for it and the 135,000 people it served.
The appointment of Adrian Clements, a senior Friarage consultant, to the role of medical director and, later, deputy chief executive of the Trust helped enormously.
Then, when the changes to what was then a struggling A&E department was proposed, I organised the public meeting attended by hundreds of people in Northallerton so that the Friarage doctors could explain why they were finding it so difficult to recruit the emergency care consultants and anaesthetists necessary to run a safe service.
Incidentally, it was at that meeting that Adrian Clements mentioned in passing the importance to the hospital’s future that the operating theatres were replaced.
Following the public meeting, I commissioned an independent report into the proposed changes. I felt it was crucial that fresh, impartial, eyes examined the recruitment issue. One of the conclusions of the 77-page report was that finding critical care doctors was a real problem for hospitals across the UK – and not just very small hospitals like the Friarage. Another critical finding was that the Trust’s plan for an Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) would be safe for patients.
In the face of the independently-gathered evidence about recruitment, I backed the plan for a 24/7 UTC. It has worked well – as my Dad found last month when the staff there looked after him superbly after a minor accident.
Around ninety per cent of people needing emergency care are still treated at the Friarage and it is also treating more sick children than the old A&E did – something that I think is very important remembering that night when one of my daughters fell ill.
Another important step has been to get more trainee doctors spending time at the Friarage. That’s something I successfully made the funding case for when Hull York Medical School bid to increase its training places. We know that has a big influence on where qualified medics opt to build their careers once they finish their training.
Over the recent bank holiday weekend, I called in at the Friarage to celebrate the good news about the new theatre block. Talking to the doctors, nurses and the non-medical staff it was clear that the announcement has been a tremendous morale booster. The smiles on people’s faces was great to see.
Along with the other recent and very welcome developments, this marks a significant change in fortunes for the Friarage. The South Tees Hospitals trust sees it as vital to its operations and its future is bright.
The Friarage is now set to become a model for how a small district hospital serving a large rural area can operate successfully and sustainably.
Having recently taken part in a Westminster Hall debate on small hospitals, my first speech upon my return to the backbenches, I paid tribute to the incredible doctors and nurses of the Friarage. I will always champion the Friarage and I feel immensely privileged to represent you as your local MP - I am looking forward to delivering even more on our local priorities.