A WORLD-RENOWNED retired heart surgeon has called for more money, a different philosophy, flexible working and "collaboration not competition" in the NHS.

Professor John Dark, who lives in Hexham, and was in charge of the cardiac and pulmonary transplant programme at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for twenty years, also called for the introduction of a sugar tax.

"We’ve taken on the tobacco industry, we’ve exposed the problems caused by alcohol abuse, now it is time to take on the food processing industry," said the professor, who was speaking at a public meeting held jointly by The Hexham Debate and Tynedale Transformed on the subject of health.

His key theme was to change the NHS’s approach, moving away from competition between hospitals and medical units.

"We need to rationalise and collaborate, have more centres of excellence." he said. "Not compete." He also called on changes to support closer working between GPs, hospitals and social care, and argued that better IT systems were needed to help.

Professor Dark, who was instrumental in making the Freeman unit one of the most prolific centres for both heart and lung transplantation in the UK, also said it was 'wrong that so much NHS money' was spent on hiring staff from agencies.

Last weekend, the BBC reported that companies providing freelance staff to the NHS to cover for big shortages of doctors and nurses have seen their income rise by tens of millions of pounds since 2019.

"We need greater flexible working within the NHS," said Professor Dark. "That’s why people often prefer to work for agencies. They aren’t prepared to work seven days a week any more, like we did.

"If you go to an outside provider, you ought to get value for money, but you don’t. The staff get paid the same, but private companies take a profit."

Hexham Courant: The Hexham Debates and Tynedale Transformed public meeting took place on SaturdayThe Hexham Debates and Tynedale Transformed public meeting took place on Saturday (Image: Submitted)

Another panellist at the meeting, Jude Letham, of Keep Our NHS Public North East, said hospitals are now "actively encouraging people to go private for things like knees and hips". 

"The NHS must be universal, publicly owned and publicly providing services free at the point of use," she said. "The extended waiting lists have presented a new opportunity for private companies."

Jenny Firth-Cozens, a governor of the Northumbria Healthcare Trust, told the meeting that people were fortunate to live in one of the best regions for healthcare.

"We are really, really lucky to be here in Northumberland," she said. "We’re one of the top trusts in Britain. Consistently. I’ve never been in hospitals which have so many local staff. Happy staff are really important."

READ MORE: Hexham General Hospital on Top 100 UK hospitals list

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We are making up to £14.1 billion available for health and social care over the next two years on top of record funding, to support the workforce and ensure patients receive the highest-quality care.

"While temporary staffing allows the NHS to meet fluctuations in demand, we are growing the workforce and controlling spending by capping hourly pay, prioritising NHS staff when shifts need filling and hiring agency staff through approved NHS frameworks to ensure value for money.

"The NHS will always be free at the point of use and not for sale. However, the independent sector has been used to bolster NHS capacity and ease pressure at critical times for nearly two decades. Our Elective Recovery Taskforce will work to unlock spare capacity as we focus on cutting waiting times."

On the introduction of a sugar tax, the spokesman added that the government keeps all taxes under regular review.

The next public discussion run by The Hexham Debate and Tynedale Transformed will be on climate change and will take place at St Mary’s Church Hall, Hexham on April 29 at 10am.