A SENIOR MP has pledged to leave no stone unturned in seeking £20m of funding to help secure the future of a general hospital hit by a series of service cutbacks.

Richmond MP Rishi Sunak was responding to South Tees NHS Trust revealing that its leading ambition was to overhaul the dated operating theatres at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

Health campaigners, who fear the recent closure of the accident and emergency department and intensive care unit will become another permanent loss at the infirmary, have welcomed the intervention by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Mr Sunak said he would do all he could at Westminster “to make that investment a reality as soon as possible”.

The trust’s medical director and deputy chief executive, Dr Adrian Clements, told members of North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmond constituency committee that creating a new theatre block at the Friarage was of paramount importance.

Dr Clements said: “A new, state of the art theatre complex at the Friarage Hospital is our number one capital priority at the Friarage, as we know that this type of investment will help us to attract, and retain, the staff that we need to build a sustainable future for the hospital and allow us to treat and care for more of our patients closer to home.”

The meeting heard claims that while the ambition had been held up for years due to a lack of funding, the hospital had lost services due to some of its buildings and equipment being dated, making it difficult to recruit staff who are willing to work in such an environment.

Councillor John Blackie, who has battled to retain services at the Friarage Hospital for two decades, said it had been known for more than two years in the NHS networks that the operating theatres, whilst safe for patients, were “well past their sell by date when it comes to attracting consultants to be employed permanently or on a visiting basis at the hospital”.

The Independent member for the Upper Dales said: “My clear understanding is that Rishi Sunak was advised about this at the time, and that the uncertainty as to whether they would be replaced as a state-of-the-art facility costing an estimated £20m was creating difficulties in recruiting consultants, including the very anaesthetists the lack of which has caused the downgrading of the 24/7 accident and emergency service and the removal of the intensive care unit at the hospital.”

He added: “In any case I welcome his commitment to seek the funding for the new theatre block now, especially as he is a junior minister in Government.

“Who knows, perhaps the temporary nature of the changes at the Friarage might be exactly as described, and with a new theatre block the full 24/7 accident and emergency and intensive care services can be fully restored and properly staffed by consultants once a new theatre block is available.”

Councillor Jim Clark, chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee, also welcomed Mr Sunak’s pledge, ahead of an expected public consultation exercise this summer on services at the hospital.

He said it was important that improvements to the Friarage’s fabric were prioritised. Cllr Clark said: “If we are going to go forward with a full consultation on the future of the Friarage, we need to bring into the consultation access to the £20m, which I gather was raised some years ago. We need to be in a position to have some progress on that.

“The people of North Yorkshire need three acute hospitals – Darlington Memorial, James Cook and the Friarage – we all have to be pushing for the extra investment.”