Fears over impact of Scottish independence on access to healthcare for Berwick residents

Concerns have been voiced over whether people in Berwick will still be able to access healthcare services in Scotland should it become independent

Sheila Broadbent and her son Jack from Norham, North Northumberland
Sheila Broadbent and her son Jack from Norham, North Northumberland

Fear have bee raised that a vote for Scottish independence could limit access to healthcare for residents in Northumberland.

Many people in Berwick and surrounding area travel over the border to use health services such as Borders General Hospital at Melrose and Coldstream Medical Practice, with those in some cases closer than their nearest facilities in England.

However, with Scots to vote on independence in September, the mayor of Berwick has told of fears in the town and surrounding area that the choice they currently have to use health services either side of the border could be ended in the event of a ‘yes’ outcome.

Isabel Hunter, also Northumberland County Councillor for Berwick West with Ord, said: “If we get Scottish independence what can happen there. Are Berwick patients going to be able to access services at Borders General?

“We never think of a border at Berwick here, we are that close to it and go back and forward that many times.

“A lot of people do like the Borders or find it as easy as Wansbeck General Hospital. There is around a 50/50 split.

“If Scotland gets independence are we going to be allowed to access their services? We are getting closer to it. If we get a yes vote, how is Berwick going to be effected, and the borders.”

Sheila Penman, from Norham, has had to make regular trips to the Borders hospital with son Jack, 10, as doctors have tried to arrive at a diagnosis after he was admitted with suspected meningitis last January.

The Borders site is 30 miles away, meaning a 60 mile round trip which would be replaced by one of 114 miles if she had to take him to Wansbeck 57 miles away.

Jack from Norham, North Northumberland
Jack from Norham, North Northumberland

She added: “It’s a bad road to drive, it takes over an hour to get there, more like an hour and a half.

“It would be very inconvenient, just travelling alone. Let alone the car park costs down there.”

Ahead of the independence vote, a working group set up to investigate concerns over health care provision in Berwick, on which Coun Hunter sits, has questioned how often English ambulances are currently deployed on jobs North of the border, and vice versa.

Figures provided by the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) to the Berwick Patient Care Task and Finish Group show that in the 12 month Period from February 1, 2013 to January 31, 2014, vehicles from the town attended 43 jobs in Scotland, with 2,221 in Northumberland.

Vehicles from other ambulance services attended 41 emergencies in Berwick, and 18 emergencies and one urgent call in the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area excluding the town.

Meanwhile, the task and finish group, set up by the county council to investigate concerns about issues with patient care in the Berwick area - including ambulance response times and maternity services, has made a number of recommendations to the authority’s policy board.

Norham in North Northumberland
Norham in North Northumberland

It has recommended that health and care services be promoted at locality level across Berwick and that a comprehensive register of healthcare facilities within Northumberland and across its borders along NEAS transport routes, be produced.

The group has also advised that primary care providers and the new Berwick hospital be encouraged to work in partnership to develop local services on a needs basis, subject to appropriate clinical safety.

Furthermore, it recommends the eligibility criteria for patient transport appointments with all providers of ambulance services, including NEAS, be determined, defined and advertised to all GPs and healthcare facilities for display and, when appropriate, communication to patients.

It also seeks a register of the full range of patient transport services available from NEAS and all known alternative patient transport arrangements, including costs, be produced through cooperation of the healthcare agencies involved.


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