As NHS trusts are told to scale back requests for capital funding, concerns have been raised about the impact on plans to upgrade two County Durham hospitals.
NHS England and NHS Improvement have instructed trusts across the country to reduce their 2019/20 spending plans after the amount of money requested to fund capital projects nationally exceeded the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget.
This includes funding for new buildings, new equipment and IT systems and enhancements to existing facilities.
The spending review has prompted fears for plans to replace the accident and emergency (A&E) unit at University Hospital North Durham (UHND) in Durham City, as well as a proposal to replace Shotley Bridge Hospital near Consett with a new purpose-built facility.
The Prime Minister’s pledge to invest a further £850 million into 20 hospitals across the country has done little to ease concerns, as neither hospital has been earmarked for funding.
Cllr Lucy Hovvels MBE, Cabinet member for adults and health services at Durham County Council, is calling on the Government to provide County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust with the money it needs to deliver these “vital projects.”
Earlier this year, the trust set out various options to ensure the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital after securing £17 million to improve the facility. This included plans to relocate some care to the UHND in Durham City, while keeping the majority of services in a new purpose-built facility in north west Durham.
A community engagement exercise took place between March and May to gain residents’ views about how care could be provided and a full public consultation is due to take place later this year.
However, potential cuts to capital funding could jeopardise the project.
It is also a major setback for the trust’s bid to secure the £23 million needed for a new emergency care centre at UHND. Plans for the facility, which would double A&E capacity, were approved in 2017 and it is hoped NHS Improvement will fund the scheme.
Cllr Hovvels, who is also chair of the Shotley Bridge Hospital Reference Group, said: “These projects are vital for us to continue to meet the health needs of the people of County Durham, which is why it’s so important our local trust gets the money it needs to bring them to fruition.
“A great deal of work has been put into determining the best way to secure the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital. It’s an issue that residents feel incredibly strongly about and raise with me time and time again.
“UHND’s current A&E, meanwhile, is under ever increasing pressure as admissions continue to rise. The North East deserves the same standard of healthcare as the rest of the country and I am urging the Government to invest in our hospitals and show the people of County Durham that they care.”
The information gathered during the Shotley Bridge Hospital engagement exercise is being collated into a report. This will be presented to the council’s adult’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee in October and will be followed by a public consultation.
The Shotley Bridge Hospital Reference Group was set up by North Durham Commissioning Group (CCG) and is made up of local councillors, North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock, representatives from the CCG and County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and other partners.