CAMPAIGNERS and fundraisers have welcomed news of a £35.5m investment in operating theatres at the Friarage Hospital.

The Department of Health and Social Care has given the green light for the funding, which will pay for the creation of new, modern facilities at the Northallerton hospital.

The NHS needs to increase capacity to support patients whose non-urgent care has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Friarage development is one of more than 50 new surgical hubs that are being created across the country.

Subject to final approval of the scheme, the plans for the Friarage will see the hospital’s six existing operating theatres replaced with a modern surgical hub that will include six main operating theatres, two minor operating theatres and a surgical admission and day hub.

The creation of the state-of-the-art surgical hub at the Friarage will enable the hospital to almost double the number of planned operations it carries out each year from just over 5,000 to almost 10,000.

The detailed plans for the new theatres have been led by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s experienced clinicians, and will now be developed further for the next phase of regional and national NHS approvals before they are given the final go-ahead.

The surgical hub is planned to be built on the site of the existing Mowbray building which is more than 60 years old and is due to be demolished when the hospital's new diagnostic hub opens.


Rishi Sunak celebrating with Friarage staff, from left, operating theatre manager Sarah Baker, chief medical officer Mike Stewart, and matron Vicki Davidson

Rishi Sunak celebrating with Friarage staff, from left, operating theatre manager Sarah Baker, chief medical officer Mike Stewart, and matron Vicki Davidson

Dr Mike Stewart, the trust’s chief medical officer, said: “We are delighted that the plans for significant investment in the creation of a surgical hub at the Friarage have passed this important milestone.

“Replacing the Friarage’s ageing theatre block with a modern and expanded surgical hub will ensure the world-class care our clinicians deliver is matched by world-class facilities for decades to come.”

Rishi Sunak, who has worked with the Friarage’s doctors and the hospital managers to bring the plan to this stage, said the hospital has been his "number one local priority" since he was elected as Richmond MP seven years ago.

“This is just brilliant news for the all the hospital’s doctors, staff and patients who love the Friarage so much," he said. "We are incredibly proud of the hospital and this announcement repays the faith of everyone who has worked hard to develop services there and to ensure it has a sustainable future.

"This announcement is a statement of confidence in the hospital’s future. We are seeing more people treated here, at our local hospital, and that’s a huge benefit for patients in this very rural area who value the services provided locally at the Friarage so much.”

The news was also welcomed by the Save our Friarage Hospital Campaign group, which was formed several years ago to defend services at what is one of the smallest rural district hospitals in the country.

Spokeswoman Holly Wilkinson said: “This is the sort of news we want to hear about the Friarage. It is a massive morale booster for everyone associated with the hospital. For those patients who don’t want to make the trips to James Cook at Middlesbrough or to Darlington it is really good news. The South Tees trust has changed its attitude towards the Friarage and that’s very welcome.”

The recent developments have been supported by the hospital’s charity, the Friends of the Friarage.

Susan Watson, co-chair of the Friends, said: “We are delighted to hear the news of this significant and exciting development marking a bright new future for the Friarage Hospital.

“Over the past three years we’ve supported the creation of the new services to the tune of £1m and we are now working with surgical teams across the site, including plastic surgery, gynaecology, the eye department and the musculoskeletal team to support their aspirations to offer state of the art services to our local population.

"In the next two years we’re looking to invest at least another £200,000 in these services. The Friends have worked with the hospital for 65 years and we look forward to supporting this excellent local service for many years to come.”

Recent fortunes of the Friarage

2014: Paediatric and maternity services downgraded to a midwife-led service

2017: South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust announces it is struggling to recruit doctors to staff A&E department

2018: South Tees announces that critically-ill patients are to be treated at James Cook or Darlington Memorial because of recruitment problem. Urgent Treatment Centre to operate at the Friarage

2018: £10m Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Cancer Centre opens

2019: Independent report, commissioned by Rishi Sunak, to evaluate trust’s emergency care decision, backs trust’s approach

2019: Urgent Treatment Centre to remain operating 24/7 after review and public consultation. More children now receiving treatment under new emergency care model

2020: New eye unit treating up to 14,000 patients a year opens

2020: South Tees Trust says as part of its "Growing the Friarage" policy old Second World War buildings are to be demolished to make way for new rapid diagnostics hub

2021: New kidney dialysis unit opens saving patients trips to James Cook or Darlington

2021: New education centre to train more doctors, nurses and other medical staff opens

2022: Government gives greenlight to £35.5m surgical hub plan

2022: Work is completed on £5m urology and endoscopy rapid diagnostics hub