WE have had some good news about local health services recently which given the current staffing challenges at the Friarage Hospital should rightly be celebrated.

Firstly, local health service managers have announced that a new development pioneered in Bainbridge, Wensleydale, has proved to be so successful it has now been rolled out to seven other locations in Hambleton and Richmondshire.

The step-up, step-down bed at Sycamore Hall was opened last year and has provided short-term care for patients not ill enough to go in to hospital and not well enough to go home.

The scheme is led by the patient’s GP and effectively involves other health and social services staff to provide flexible care close to home With similar step-up/step-down down beds now available at Leyburn, Stokesley, Bedale, Thirsk and, most recently, Brompton, doctors now have a care option between hospital and home which patients and their families prefer while also allowing managers to free-up hospital beds for the more seriously ill.

Using hospital beds efficiently is important and is one reason why our local hospitals trust – South Tees – has managed to meet its waiting time targets for the performance of its A&E departments, the treatment of cancer patients and for planned surgery. Indeed, the South Tees Trust was ranked fourth best in the country with the Darlington trust not far behind.

This is very heartening as we near the onset of winter but, of course, it also serves to highlight the importance of the services provided at the Friarage.

The current engagement events being held in which the South Tees Trust is flagging up the problems it has recruiting doctors, particularly anaesthetists, to the Friarage have been well attended so far and I very much welcome that. You have to join me in making our voices heard and stress the importance of maintaining emergency care services in Northallerton – especially if the trust wants to keep hitting that A&E target.

The next engagement events are at Catterick Garrison on Monday, November 6, and at Stokesley on Wednesday, November 8. Details at southtees.nhs.uk/friarage/events.

Between writing this column and its publication on Friday, an important meeting will take place about the proposed mental health changes I have previously referred to here.

It seems likely that at its meeting on Thursday, the local clinical commissioning group (which buys health services for us) will take a decision to press on with the proposed re-organisation.

While the proposal would see a welcome expansion of community mental health services and the construction of a new mental health unit at the Friarage, it would also lead to the loss of inpatient beds there.

In my dealings with health managers on this issue over the summer I have broadly welcomed the improved community services.

But I have also pressed them about your concerns - which I share - about the loss of inpatient beds in Northallerton and the implications for patients and their families of having those beds out of the area – in Darlington or Middlesbrough.

In particular, my concerns about an admittedly small number of elderly dementia patients being treated as inpatients at Bishop Auckland have not been, as yet, fully addressed.

I will keep pressing health managers on this and should their proposal go ahead, you can be sure that I will be watching them closely to make sure they fulfil their pledges on the upgraded community services they have promised us.