CONCERNS have been raised over funding for existing plans to upgrade two community hospitals, despite promises of a £1.8 billion cash injection for health services.

A spending review may jeopardise plans to replace the accident and emergency unit at University Hospital North Durham, in Durham City, as well as the replacement of Shotley Bridge Hospital, near Consett, with a new purpose-built facility.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have instructed trusts across the country to reduce their 2019/20 spending plans after the amount of money requested to fund capital projects nationally exceeded the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget.

This includes funding for new buildings, new equipment and IT systems and enhancements to existing facilities.

The Prime Minister’s pledge to invest £850 million into 20 hospitals across the country has done little to ease fears, as neither hospital has been earmarked for funding.

Durham County Councillor Lucy Hovvels is now calling on the Government to provide County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust with the money it needs.

She said: “These projects are vital for us to continue to meet the health needs of the people of County Durham, which is why it’s so important our local trust gets the money it needs to bring them to fruition.

“The North-East deserves the same standard of healthcare as the rest of the country and I am urging the Government to invest in our hospitals and show the people of County Durham that they care.”

Earlier this year, the trust set out various options to ensure the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital after securing £17 million to improve the facility.

This included plans to relocate some care to the UHND in Durham City, while keeping the majority of services in a new purpose-built facility in North West Durham.

A community engagement exercise took place between March and May to gain residents’ views about how care could be provided and a full public consultation is due to take place later this year.

Project Genesis has recently submitted an outline planning application for a new community hospital and pharmacy on the former steelworks site in Consett.

However, potential cuts to capital funding are putting the project at risk.

It is also a major setback for the trust’s bid to secure the £23 million needed for a new emergency care centre at UHND.

Plans for the facility, which would double emergency service capacity, were approved in 2017 and it is hoped NHS Improvement will fund the scheme.

The Shotley Bridge Hospital Reference Group was set up by North Durham Commissioning Group (CCG) and is made up of local councillors, North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock, representatives from the CCG and County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and other partners.

Ms Pidcock said: “The Government has told our local NHS commissioning body, the North Durham CCG, that the £17 million that was earmarked to build a new health facility in North West Durham to replace Shotley Bridge Hospital, is no longer guaranteed.

“They have basically taken £17 million from our area overnight, with no guarantees that we will get this money in the future.

“There have been hundreds of hours of planning and public engagement events where local residents have been part of the planning for a new facility.

“All of that work could now be completely wasted time and energy.”

Dr Stewart Findley, chief officer for the County Durham clinical commissioning groups, said health chiefs in the region were also concerned about the availability of money for the projects.

He said: “There’s a shortage of capital in the NHS at the moment, all our trusts are having to delay some capital programmes and we don’t know if Shotley Bridge will be caught up in that.

“We’re trying to get assurance that that will be available in the short term, although we’re sure it will be in the long term.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the promised £1.8bn of extra funding for the NHS is new money despite suggestions that most of it is already held in reserve by health trusts.

It is understood the money will be added to Theresa May’s promised £33.9bn annual increase by 2023/24.

Hartlepool MP Mike Hill said: “After years of cutbacks and forced efficiency measures placed on the NHS by the Governments efficiency agenda, suddenly Boris finds a magic money tree.

“The reality is that almost a decade of neglect and underinvestment by the Tories has led to many hospitals being left in a state of disrepair and a backlog of maintenance of around £6 billion.

“To add insult to injury not a single penny of the £850 million on so called improvement projects will be going to any of our hospitals in the Tees Valley, despite the Tories believing they have a foot hold here through the election of a Conservative Metro Mayor and the very obvious state of disrepair places like North Tees are in.”

Redcar MP Anna Turley added: “Our local health services on Teesside are facing extreme pressures and the amount of money we are receiving from Government is clearly not enough to meet the demands on services.

“We have big health challenges, from an ageing population, the impact of poverty and a growing crisis in mental health. We need fair funding and we need it now.”