DOCTORS made an impassioned plea to the public to get behind their “innovative” plans to secure a future for Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital.

At a public meeting at Northallerton School and Sixth Form College, about 500 people were crammed into the hall to hear from the two key decision makers, Dr Adrian Clements, the trust’s deputy chief executive and Friarage medical director, and Dr James Dunbar, the Friarage Hospital’s clinical director.

Richmond MP Rishi Sunak chaired the meeting to discuss the decision taken by the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to temporarily suspend some critical care services and change the A&E department to an Urgent Treatment Centre.

Dr Clements said the trust’s main problem was recruiting the required amount of anaesthetists – and that a national shortage was causing serious problems.

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He said: “We held events to find out what people thought was important about the Friarage and local access and keeping as much as possible at the Friarage were key issues.

“A model for the Friarage has been developed over the last 18 months, designed by people who work at the Friarage – this has not been done for us by James Cook Hospital.”

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He said the new model would be an acute hospital that does not rely on anaesthetic cover, but would have consultants at the front door during the day, seven days a week.

He said this approach was innovative and would make the hospital sustainable.

Dr Dunbar said the trust had been working extensively to recruit anaesthetists.

He said: “We are not recruiting enough and we are also losing staff to working overseas – for more money and less work.

“We have been to national conferences, used Facebook, and used financial incentives but the results have been disappointing.

“A lot of doctors don’t believe the Friarage is sustainable so don’t want to take a job here.”

Dr Clements added: “We have to run safe services. Please get behind this model – it can’t be taken back to something the clinicians know is not possible.”

Many people in the audience wanted to ask questions, including David Williams, former chairman of the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group.

He said he was impressed with the model but that there had been problems for many years over the workforce with both clinicians and nurses.

Following a question about the pressures on the ambulance service having to take more patients to James Cook Hospital over the Friarage, Dr Dunbar said there will be more ambulance journeys because of these changes but it was revealed that the Yorkshire Ambulance Service will allocate two extra ambulances.

People asking about travelling the extra distance to James Cook Hospital over the Friarage if they were having a heart attack or a stroke were told even when the A&E at Friarage was open, they should go to James Cook for treatment.

Dr Clements said: “With heart attacks stroke or major trauma, you could come to the Friarage but you’re more likely to survive if you go to James Cook.”

The audience was also told James Cook had allocated extra capacity to accommodate more people, but also that patients could go back to the Friarage if they had to go to Middlesbrough during the night.

Dr Dunbar said: “There is a lot to be optimistic about. There has been massive improvements, such as the beautiful new cancer centre.

“There will be more big surgeries at James Cook so there will be more smaller surgeries at the Friarage.

“We are really quite good at what we do – in our last audit the Friarage was the best in the country.”

When asked about elderly patients being treated in a hospital far from where they live, Dr Dunbar added: “I fundamentally believe care should be as close to home as possible.”

He said even patients who had been admitted to James Cook should be able to use the Friarage for follow-up appointments.