WHAT a year 2020 has turned out to be.

In writing my final column of the year, reflections on the events of the last 12 months bring one word to mind – unparalleled.

I thought delivering my first Budget within three-and-half weeks of being appointed Chancellor would be my most difficult task but that turned out to be just the start of a series of challenges to keep the economy going during the pandemic.

So I’m particularly pleased in Christmas week to be able to write about the good news we have had about the Friarage Hospital this year, culminating in this week’s announcement about the £1m investment in the development of the new diagnostic hub. This investment will also meet the cost of removing disused buildings on the Friarage site which paves the way for other improvements including new operating theatres, subject to approval of a business case for what will be an even-more substantial investment in the Northallerton site.

This major step forward for the hospital follows a series of positive announcements in 2020 which started with the confirmation that the new urgent treatment centre would continue to operate on a 24/7 basis and not on reduced hours as had been considered.

New services established this year or coming early in 2021 include:

lAn eye unit to treat up to 14,000 patients a year – a big expansion of the hospital’s ophthalmology service

lA kidney dialysis unit to avoid patients having to travel to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough for the service

lA leading-edge cancer service to help detect the disease earlier and therefore boost patients’ chance of a successful recovery – complementing the first-class treatment now offered at the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre.

All these developments are a strong sign that the hospital has a bright future.

I have always made the case that the Friarage offers the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – which runs the Friarage – opportunities to ease the load on the very busy James Cook site at Middlesbrough.

In my five years as your MP, I have always pressed the hospital’s senior doctors and staff to ensure we have a good range of services here in Northallerton.

The trust’s management now fully understands the value of the Friarage site and is actively seeking ways to make better use of it to treat more patients there. I very much welcome this.

All of which means fewer long journeys for North Yorkshire residents to access hospital services elsewhere.

I’ll continue to make the case to the trust that the enormous support for the Friarage in the local community – epitomised by the wonderful work of the Friends of Friarage – should be recognised by giving the hospital’s clinicians the best-possible facilities to deliver the care we all value so much.

However you choose to celebrate Christmas this unprecedented year can I urge you and your families to do so safely. Have a peaceful and relaxing time.

I wish you all the very best for a brighter 2021.

lThe column will return in January.