Rishi Sunak welcomes scrapping of plan to downgrade hospital

Rishi Sunak has welcomed health chiefs scrapping a plan that could have seen a hospital used by many of his constituents downgraded.

It was announced this week that a review which earmarked Darlington Memorial Hospital for the loss of its A&E department and consultant-led maternity services had been abandoned.

The Better Health re-organisation programme had proposed that either the Darlington or North Tees hospitals be downgraded from a specialist emergency care hospital to a local hospital with the loss of a number of services.

Mr Sunak had argued that the loss of high-level maternity services at Darlington would have amounted to a “breach of trust” given the undertakings given at the time of the downgrading of maternity services at the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, in 2014.

Pressing local and national health chiefs to protect services, he said such a move would be contrary to what his constituents had been told at the time of the Friarage changes and an “explicit understanding” given that consultant-led provision at Darlington would continue.

In 2017 Mr Sunak put aside party politics to campaign on the issue with Darlington’s Labour MP Jenny Chapman and held a series of meetings with local health officials to make the case for the Memorial hospital.

Together, they wrote to the boss of NHS England say the process of choosing which hospital would be downgraded appeared to be biased because the senior officials running the process were affiliated with the North Tees hospital.

Mr Sunak also called into question the criteria to be used to make a decision between the two hospitals which did not take account of the distances his constituents would have to travel if services were centralised at the North Tees hospital and the James Cook University Hospital at Middlesbrough.

Mr Sunak said: “The idea that the Memorial should be downgraded did not make sense. You only had to look at a map to see that centralising all emergency hospital services on two sites within a few miles of each other on Teesside would not work for thousands of my constituents living in the northern Yorkshire Dales, Richmond and A66 corridor areas.”

The Richmond MP said he would remain watchful as the re-organisation process continued.

“I am grateful for the assurance given about the Darlington hospital’s status but we know there will be some service changes as our local NHS managers try to deliver good quality, good value health services.

“They have told me they want to provide more urgent and emergency care closer to home and I will continue to press them to honour that commitment.”