BOSSES at an NHS hospital trust have denied there are any plans to close one of its accident and emergency departments after a petition calling for the facility to be ‘saved’ was circulated in the area.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said the A&E department at Darlington Memorial Hospital is in the process of being extended to provide extra urgent care services and serves thousands of people each year.

The trust made its statement in response to a petition by Darlington man Nigel Boddy, who claims spending patterns by the NHS in Teesside and County Durham suggest that the region could eventually be left with one A&E department, at James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough.

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Mr Boddy’s petition was attacked by members of Darlington Borough Council’s health scrutiny committee, who described it as “scaremongering” and said they had been contacted by a number of residents frightened for the future of their local hospital.

Councillor Heather Scott said: “We have to explode this myth, the A&E department is not at risk. This petition is scaremongering and people are getting really worried about it.”

Mr Boddy denied his petition was scaremongering and said he was raising concerns that he had heard people discuss privately in a public way.

He added: “I hope what the hospital trust and the councillors are saying is correct, but I’m very much afraid that they are not.

“This is about the future of hospital services – you can wait for the axe to fall or try to raise the issue.

“No-one hopes more than me that I am wrong but I am put in mind of the promises that were made about the future of Hartlepool A&E 15 years ago and that has now gone.”

The foundation trust plans to extend the A&E department at the Memorial Hospital to provide both emergency and urgent care services in the same facility.

Urgent care services, for minor injuries and illnesses that do not require emergency treatment, are already provided at the hospital between 8pm and 6am, with planning underway to reconfigure the A&E department to offer the service full time.

Sue Jacques, chief executive of the foundation trust, said: “We continue to invest in Darlington Memorial Hospital.

“In recent years, we have spent around £30m including infrastructure renewal, intensive care and a refurbished outpatients department, as well as in A&E.

“In the North-East, we are lucky to have specialist regional centres of the calibre of the Newcastle hospitals and James Cook where major trauma cases, including head injuries, are treated.

“However, our communities still need quality emergency and urgent care more locally, although how these are provided may change based on best practice, local needs and the best outcomes for patients.”