Councillors are to investigate concerns over health care provision in a remote area of Northumberland.
Northumberland County Council has set up a task and finish group to look into worries voiced in the Berwick area over issues including ambulance response times and maternity services.
The Berwick Patient Care Task and Finish Group has been formed by the council’s care and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee with the remit of “investigating concerns expressed by committee and local members about issues with patient care in the Berwick area”.
A report to a meeting of the committee this week tells how the group has agreed a work programme to address “the key issues” of maternity services and transport.
Deliveries at the maternity unit at Berwick Infirmary were suspended in 2012 following a fall in the number of women giving birth there, and a number of safety incidents.
However, deliveries were reinstated last summer with the unit open reduced hours and a 24/7 on-call system under which midwives will assist on site or at women’s homes.
Since then, there have been 10 births and health chiefs are currently carrying out a review of how the new arrangements are working.
The Journal recently reported on three cases in which people in the Berwick area in emergency situations faced lengthy waits for ambulances, all of which travelled from afar due to unavailability of vehicles at the town’s station.
Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, took up the case of Jack Penman, 10, from Norham, who had to wait an hour and 10 minutes for a vehicle to come from Amble despite suffering suspected meningitis.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) admitted its response times in that and the other two cases “fell short of what we would normally aim to achieve”.
The group has now been formed with a threefold remit to identify issues with patient care in the Berwick area, engage with health professionals and submit recommendations on how to improve the situation.
It is made up of a number of county councillors including the three from Berwick, and will receive reports from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which owns the infirmary, and NEAS.
Last night, one of Berwick’s county councillors and the town’s mayor Isabel Hunter said the distances residents must travel for health care need to be looked at.
“It is never a problem that is going to go away from Berwick because we are on the periphery.”
Berwick mother Kelly Corrigan, 35, who led a campaign for deliveries to be reinstated at the maternity unit, also welcomed the group’s formation. She called on councillors to push health authorities to ensure maternity and other services are not disrupted during a planned rebuild of the infirmary.