A High Court hearing into the suspension of accident and emergency services at The Friarage hospital in Northallerton has been vacated this week after management at the South Tees NHS Foundation Trust agreed to hold a full consultation into the decision.
The case was due to be heard in the High Court today (July 25).
The NHS trust had decided in March this year to replace A&E services with an urgent care treatment centre. Management argued that the move was due to problems with the recruitment of key staff including doctors and anaesthetists.
The Save Friarage Hospital group claimed that the step could have a major impact both in the community and also on services at other nearby hospitals. It has claimed that suspension of A&E services had led to the loss of hospital beds in both the emergency ward and the intensive treatment unit.
A local resident instructed Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law team, who obtained permission for a judicial review to be held examining the legality of the decision.
This was on the grounds that the NHS Trust had failed to engage with the public or the local council regarding the decision to suspend the A&E service.
However, in conjunction with NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) (the body which commissions services from the NHS Trust), South Tees has now agreed to hold a full consultation into services at the Friarage hospital.
As part of the agreement the Trust will continue to review the possibility of re-opening the hospital’s A&E throughout the consultation period.
Irwin Mitchell solicitor Helen Smith, who is representing the local residents and campaign group, said: “While we appreciate that the NHS is facing many challenges, our clients have said all along that those directly affected by the suspension of A&E services at The Friarage had not been properly consulted.
“We welcome this agreement and the Health Trust’s pledge to keep reviewing the re-opening the A&E department at the Friarage Hospital, something which our clients’ were always concerned about.”
She added: “It is now vital that the CCG carries out a full and transparent consultation, with an open mind on all the options including reinstating the A & E and other services at the Friarage, allowing residents to have the opportunity to fully take part in the decision making process.”
As part the agreement, a “formal public consultation” into the CCG’s long-term plans for the Friarage will start no later than 30 September.
The CCG’s public consultation will include the involvement of groups including Healthwatch, Save the Friarage Hospital group, Age UK and Headway.
Holly Wilkinson of the Save Friarage Hospital group added: “We continue to have concerns about what the long-term future may hold for the hospital but welcome the commitment to fully engage with everyone who will be affected.
“It is now vital that that the agreement is more than words and that the NHS Trust and CCG stick to their promise.
“We will continue to campaign to maintain hospital services at The Friarage.”
A spokesperson for South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are pleased that the campaigners have decided to drop their legal action and settle the case.
"We can now focus our efforts on carrying out a full public consultation. We have always stated that we would carry out a full public consultation and this has always been our intention."