THE closure of a hospital children’s ward was described as “like a knife in the back” by angry protesters yesterday.
Just seven years after the opening of the £67m Bishop Auckland General Hospital in County Durham, health bosses are to close the ward, which has 10 beds for in-patients.
Instead, parents of sick children could face a round trip of up to 80 miles to visit their offspring from remote parts of Weardale in County Durham.
And families from a large conurbations including communities such as Crook, Shildon, Tow Law, Stanhope, and Wolsingham will face far longer journeys to hospitals in either Darlington or Durham City.
The decision by health bosses at the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust was called “a knife in the back” by retired detective Clive Auld, 62, a stalwart in Bishop Auckland’s Save Our Hospital campaign.
Hospital bosses last night said the decision would improve services, but Mr Auld said: “At no time in the consultation did the Trust refer to closing the children’s ward. It has been achieved by stealth and is an absolute disgrace.”
Mr Auld said the hospital serves a largely rural area of 195 square miles, with a population of just under 100,000.
“Some families will face long, arduous journeys to visit their children in hospital, which is appalling,” he added.
Durham County Councillor Anita Savory, from Wolsingham in Weardale, said families in remote areas could have to fork out as much as £80 on taxi fares to visit their children in either Durham or Darlington.
“Not all families in Weardale are car owners by any means. If they have a child in Bishop Auckland hospital they can catch a bus there.
“But taxi fares from parts of Weardale to Darlington or Durham can be hugely expensive. This proposal has not been properly thought through, and the ward closure is a huge body blow to families.”
The new state-of-the art hospital was welcomed by the south Durham community in 2002, but within months of it opening cuts began.
The maternity unit was downgraded to a midwife-led department, the children’s ward was downgraded so that admissions could only take place during the day, the special care baby unit was transferred to Darlington, general surgery and intensive care were downgraded and orthopaedics was restricted to hip and knee replacements. Then in 2006, ward 3, for medical and haematology patients, closed, followed by ward 9, a surgical ward.
Stephen Eames, chief executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The centralisation of acute pediatrics on two sites, (at Darlington and Durham) and bringing together the existing A&E and urgent care centre in a new integrated care centre were two of the key changes to services agreed during the Seizing the Future consultation.
“Specialist consultants are too thinly spread to offer a safe, sustainable accident and emergency service across three sites and the Healthcare Commission awarded the Trust a ‘weak’ score for its children’s services, which also related to the sustainability of services across three sites.
“From July 1, admission of children who are seriously ill or injured will be to Darlington and Durham only.”