TWO stories in The Northern Echo today illustrate perfectly the different sides of the ongoing national debate over the state of the NHS.

On pages one and two, we highlight a large rise in the number of times maternity services at Darlington Memorial Hospital had to be temporarily closed to expectant mothers, with campaigners warning of a national problem of understaffed units with not enough beds and cots available.

On page 16, we tell the story of baby Alfie who was born nine weeks prematurely at Darlington Memorial. His life was saved by the staff there and Alfie, now a bouncing 18-week-old, and his grateful family returned to thank the hospital’s special care unit with a £1,000 donation.

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On one hand, there is a stricken, undermanned service forced to take tough decisions about resources to safeguard patient welfare.

On the other, a lifesaving organisation staffed by caring, dedicated professionals who bring hope and kindness to so many.

So which is the true representation? The answer is both.

The NHS faces huge financial challenges and has well documented issues with the retention and recruitment of staff. Added to that is almost constant reform, with the latest reorganisation – Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) – still a work in progress.

As well as scrutinising every step of the STP process, and monitoring any fallout from changes to services, we will continue to run stories like Alfie’s.

Telling how his mother was able to walk to her local hospital when she was worried about her unborn child, and how staff acted swiftly to save him, reminds us all exactly what the NHS is for, and why it must be protected.