COUNCILLORS from across Tynedale have reacted angrily to the news that the overnight closure of urgent care services at Hexham General Hospital looks set to continue.

Director of clinical support at Northumbria Healthcare, Dr Colin Doig, admitted to members of Northumberland County Council’s west area committee on Tuesday night that it was “highly likely” the closure of the services between midnight and 8am would be extended.

“We introduced the closure in December as a temporary measure as part of our winter resilience planning and, when the trust board meets next week, I would say it’s highly likely it will decide to leave these measures in place for a further period of time,” he said.

“We’ve not noticed any patient safety issues that would be alarming to us so to revert back to the previous arrangements at the present time would be inappropriate use of resources.”

But Coun. Derek Kennedy said patients can’t chose when to be ill.

“If someone from Tynedale falls ill at 12.01am then it’s a long journey to Cramlington, bypassing a modern hospital where the lights have been turned off,” he said.

“I worry that ambulances are turning into taxis leaving highly trained people stuck on the roads. I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set.”

Coun. Cath Homer from Hexham East, said: “It’s a while since I saw this but my experience of Cramlington is of ambulances backed up outside, patients backed up in corridors and a triage system which was not really moving.

“We all know Hexham is a walk-in centre and not an emergency care centre any longer but are we not exacerbating the problems at Cramlington by keeping it closed overnight?

“I can’t see how you can break the cycle.”

Dr Doig told the committee: “In the 15 months between July 2015 and October 2016 staff at Hexham were seeing, on average, two patients per night and that is not the best use of time for our trained professionals.

“Because of the success, in inverted commas, of the Northumbria, we have experienced significant clinical pressures. We took the view that patient safety would be better served by redeploying our resources to where they were needed most.”

Coun. Ian Hutchinson from Haltwhistle said: “I’ve heard anecdotally of people going to Hexham and being referred on to Cramlington, but when they arrive they are told they can’t be treated because they are not really an emergency.

“So then they are sent back to Hexham and, if they’ve arrived in an ambulance, they’re left to get home under their own steam.

“Cramlington to Haltwhistle or Bellingham is a long way in a taxi.”

Coun. Alan Sharp from the Haydon and Hadrian ward said one of the key problems was a lack of communication and understanding.

“I’m a great believer that patients should have access to the best treatment possible but there’s been a failure in communicating changes to people from the start,” he said.

Dr Doig said he would be interested to hear about any problems with individual cases and added that Hexham hospital continues to be a very active hub for elective surgery with thriving units specialising in oncology, endoscopy and orthapedic services.

He added that 60 per cent of all activity across the trust still occurs on the hospital sites at Hexham, Wansbeck and North Tyneside while the hospital at Cramlington had been designed as a “closed system” to deal with the other 40 per cent who are seriously ill.

“We have been surprised by the stream of less-sick patients at Cramlington who dilute the experience for everyone else,” he admitted.