Election 2019

General election 2019: Could Bishop Auckland Hospital's A&E reopen?

Bishop Auckland Hospital Image copyright Google
Image caption The closure of Bishop Auckland's casualty department was met with outrage from protesters

With voters preparing to go to the polls on Thursday, we asked people in the North East to get in touch with questions about their constituencies.

Among those to contact us using Your Questions Answered was Anthony Gabriele, who asked: "Why hasn't the local Labour MP [Helen Goodman] fought harder to keep the hospital wards open in Bishop Auckland?"

Mr Gabriele, who has blood cancer and Parkinson's disease, added: "The people of Bishop Auckland need this hospital."

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust closed the hospital's A&E unit in 2009 despite thousands of people signing a petition opposing the move and criticism from unions and patient groups.

The organisation stated at the time that focusing casualty facilities in Durham and Darlington while offering rehabilitation services at Bishop Auckland would provide the best quality of care.

However, figures from April 2019 show Darlington Memorial Hospital and the University Hospital of North Durham missed their target of admitting or treating 95% of people within four hours of arrival at casualty - seeing 85.6% of people in that time.

Several other services at Bishop Auckland Hospital have also come under the spotlight in recent years.

Health chiefs last year held a consultation over the closure of a recuperation ward, known as ward six, although it was eventually kept open.

A further consultation over changes on the ward has been postponed until January due to the election, as has one asking for views on the proposed closure of the hospital's stroke rehabilitation facility.

Image copyright Labour Party
Image caption Helen Goodman says government spending decisions have "real impacts" on people in the area

Ms Goodman, who has been MP for Bishop Auckland since 2005, told us she had battled to maintain the provision of services throughout that time and has regularly raised the issues in the House of Commons.

She said her efforts included running campaigns opposing the proposed loss of ward six and the stroke rehabilitation facility, as well as successfully fighting a plan to scrap breast screening services at the hospital and securing local GPs' access to an MRI scanner.

Turning to the loss of the A&E department, she said: "It's closure was unpopular and nobody would like its return more than me, although I don't know what the cost of that would be as the trust won't give me a figure despite repeated requests.

"We've reached breaking point with the NHS. There has been a pattern of underinvestment [from the government] for years. The only way to keep services is to put more funding in.

"Nobody would like the return of A&E more than me. My own view is we can have an A&E if they would pay more money into the health service.

"They find it difficult to meet their four-hour waiting targets at Durham and Darlington. It would be lovely to secure more services at Bishop Auckland."

"The managers at the trust don't have enough money to pay for things and are scrabbling around," Ms Goodman added. "They call them reorganisations, but they are cuts.

"They dress them up as reorganisations to sweeten the pill."

Image copyright Conservative Party
Image caption Dehenna Davison said she wants a "grown-up discussion" about ways to reform healthcare

Conservative candidate Dehenna Davison said the loss of the A&E unit has been "one of the key things on the doorstep".

"My stance, and it may sound simplistic, is if you've got the political will and the funding anything is possible.

"I've spoken to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister about it. It's certainly going to be a priority for me if I am elected.

"Surely it makes sense to have an A&E in Bishop Auckland, and that would also make it easier for people in Teesdale. It can be the difference between life and death.

"It's not going to be easy. A big issue will be recruitment, but I'm exploring ways to resolve that."

Liberal Democrat Ray Georgeson agrees "the area needs its own A&E to reduce pressure on Darlington and Durham".

He told us: "The Liberal Democrats have made clear and honest commitments to invest in our NHS, social care and mental health, which is just as important, with a 1p increase in income tax clearly earmarked for this."

Nick Brown of the Brexit Party, who is also standing in the constituency, described the lack of an A&E as a "disgrace and a travesty".

"If ever there was a case for a hospital getting something it would be Bishop Auckland.

"If you live in Weardale, at the top of the dale, you're already 30 or 40 minutes from Bishop Auckland, but if you are ill you have to go to Darlington which is over an hour away."

His main concern, though, relates to the Private Finance Initiative scheme under which the hospital was opened in 2002. It saw the private sector construct and maintain the building with the state paying an annual fee to lease it.

"Any future government needs to look at altering the terms of the PFI deal, whether that's defaulting on the payments or paying them off entirely," he said.

"What's the point of incurring all that debt to a private company? The fact is it will eventually fall down before it's ever been fully used."

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment on almost all the issues raised by Mr Gabriele and the four candidates.

However, when asked about the upcoming consultations it said it had "identified the need for better transition between hospital and community-based services".

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