MORE than 1,500 people have had their say over the future of services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

Concern has been mounting locally that the hospital was set to lose services, particularly in emergency medical care due to a shortfall of critical care clinicians and anaesthetists.

The South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which runs the hospital embarked on an 11-week engagement programme to hear the public's views and to set out the challenges facing the facility.

The results have now been published in a report which reveals that throughout the programme, titled Building a Sustainable Future for the Friarage, around 500 people attended public events, more than 900 completed surveys and feedback cards and over 70 staff joined in discussions about hospital services.

Feedback was also collected from social media posts, MP letters and more than 40 stakeholder meetings.

The engagement programme explained some of the key challenges facing the Friarage, including recruitment difficulties and changes to medical training that are impacting on some key service areas such as critical care, overnight anaesthetic cover and accident and emergency.

The programme sought to reassure people that the Northallerton hospital would not be closing and invited them to help shape what its future could look like over the next ten to 15-years.

The NHS Trust says it was clear from the responses received that people are passionate about the Friarage and about maintaining local services. Respondents said they wanted as many services as possible available locally, but the majority agreed that quality of care and safety was a top priority.

The main issues highlighted were;

- Travelling and distance - including parking issues, taxi costs and the practical challenges of having to get to hospital for an early morning appointment.

- Ambulance provision - including response times and the impact on the service if patients had to travel further afield.

- More communications needed - to dispel myths about the Friarage and promote services.

- Value of local services - including providing services as close to home as possible and concerns about more services being lost

- Quality of care and importance of receiving the right care in an emergency - a significant number of people ranked this as their top priority and many agreed that while expert care cannot always be provided locally, rehabilitation and planned follow-up should be accessible.

- Impact of potential changes to emergency care services at the Friarage - including fears that this could have a knock-on effect on other services at the hospital.

- Impact of population growth - due to increasing numbers at Catterick Garrison and new housing developments

- Meeting the needs of specific communities - including difficulties with language barriers and improving experiences for children with special needs

All views, suggestions and concerns have been officially documented and will be considered by the Trust as it now looks to develop its long term vision for the Friarage.

Adrian Clements, medical director for the hospital, said: “We would like to thank everyone who took the time to contribute to this engagement programme.

"Your views and comments have been collated in our engagement report which is now available for anyone to view on our website.

“We are continuing to work closely with our clinicians to thoroughly review all our clinical options, as well as looking at the independent reports we have received from the Royal College of Anaesthetists and Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

“The Friarage Hospital is, and will remain, an integral part of our organisation.

"People are now more aware of the challenges that we must address and the valuable feedback gathered throughout this process will help us start to shape a plan for the future which meets the needs of the population we serve.”

All of the data gathered from the engagement programme will inform a draft business case, setting out proposals to ensure safe and sustainable services at the hospital.

This will be shared with NHS England, and North Yorkshire County Council's Scrutiny of Health Committee.

Pending the outcome of these discussions, a formal 12-week consultation period could begin this summer.