GOVERNMENT funding for a new community hospital to replace ageing medical facilities will be ‘significantly’ higher than the £17m already in place, an MP has confirmed.

Richard Holden, North-West Durham MP, said ‘millions more’ would be spent replacing Shotley Bridge Hospital, near Consett, over the next few years.

He said the cash was ‘nailed on’ following a firm commitment from the Government to create a new 16-bed hospital providing unscheduled care, outpatients services, chemotherapy and x-ray services in the area.

Mr Holden, who said he hoped to get an extra £10 million for the project when Health Secretary Matt Hancock visited the hospital last month, said: “Whatever plans come forward, so long as they meet treasury spending requirements, will be funded by central Government.

“We do not know the exact numbers yet, but the commitment is there for the extra cash we will need, and we know they are going to need more money.

“The key thing is we do not know exactly what the final plans are going to be for it yet, but we know there is going to be significantly more money available.

“The fact that the Government has said the cash is there as a long as there is a business case is really helpful.”

Edward Argar, Minister of State for Health and Social Care, also confirmed the money for Shotley Bridge will be available during a debate in the House of Commons on Monday evening.

He said the current hospital costs £1.7 million a year to run and has annual maintenance costs of £570,000.

Mr Argar said: “The new hospital for the people of North-West Durham will part of a model of care to reflect the healthcare needs of that population.

“We will fund this new hospital and I have no intention of that being through a PFI.”

The Northern Echo:

Shotley Bridge Hospital

The issue of upgrading or replacing Shotley Bridge Hospital has rumbled on for several years, with community concerns the service was being eroded so the hospital could be closed and the site could be sold for housing.

Last summer, the Department for Health and Social Care confirmed £17 million was available for the hospital, but the project has been delayed due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A revised timeline now means a period of engagement runs from next month to January with formal public consultation in June and a decision made in early 2022.

It is hoped a new hospital could be ready for use by 2023.

Shotley Bridge Hospital has now been added to a list of 40 hospitals the Government has committed to building or redeveloping by 2030 as part of a £3.7 billion package of proposals.

Jeremy Cundall, executive medical director at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said: “While it is disappointing that we have not made as much progress as we had planned, we hope this is understandable as our workforce over the past few months focussed their efforts on frontline patient care, as well as supporting their teams, during the pandemic.

“In response to the pandemic, we made a number of changes to service to ensure patient safety and protect our workforce.

“We needed to reflect on these changes and identify any learning to understand the impact of the pandemic on the shape of care and services in the future.

“We therefore felt the clinical model, which was developed pre-Covid, needed to be reviewed and further considered to take into account the changes which have taken place.

“This work is now underway and we have made some changes to the model of care so we would now like to carry out further engagement with our local communities.”

The location of the hospital is not known, but it is understood it will not be on the existing site.

Potential sites for the new hospital off the A692 in Leadgate and at Blackfyne, on Durham Road have been ruled out due to highways implications, but it is thought land near Puddler’s Corner on the former steelworks site remains an option.

The Northern Echo:

Councillor Lucy Hovvels

Councillor Lucy Hovvels, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for adult and health services and chairperson of the local Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “It is really pleasing that the Government are committing to the future of community services at Shotley Bridge Community Hospital.

“However, it is important to make clear that no final decisions have been made about the new facilities that will be offered, or their location.

“Since conversations first began about how to improve health services in North West Durham, we have been in discussions with a dedicated patient reference group, the health and wellbeing board and the local community to provide regular updates on progress.

“These conversations will continue as the plans are shaped and there will be opportunities for residents to have their say on the future of the facility before any decisions are finalised.”