THIS week we heard South Tees Hospitals trust has come up with a proposal for the future of the Friarage Hospital. Whether this includes keeping services as they are, is anybody’s guess. The plan is being kept under wraps as it has to go to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for approval first, and they could reject the whole proposal if they wished.

But the trust did share a report on how they had compiled the report; who they had spoken with and details of the consultation meetings held.

It said the main message from the public meetings was the difficulty many people had getting to hospital in the first place; people were worried about the prospect of more services being relocated from Northallerton to Middlesbrough at the James Cook hospital.

Coinciding with this announcement was news from Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG and Yorkshire Ambulance that some patients will no longer qualify for transport to outpatient appointments at hospital following a review.

They include a 68-year-old man from Reeth who needs regular appointments for an eye condition at the Friarage Hospital, who now faces a three-hour bus journey to reach the hospital or a £55 taxi journey.

Ironically, the South Tees Hospitals Trust report said the overriding theme in its public meetings on the future of the Friarage had been people’s concerns over travel times, distances and transport difficulties in getting to James Cook. We need to have confidence this is really understood when any decisions are made on the future of Friarage. If a portion of the population can’t access health services in the first place, then any other improvements or gains will be incidental to them.

The other theme of the hospital consultation was a lack of information and communication from the health bodies involved. It’s an issue that continually arises during any changes to our health services.

Health bodies seem to fundamentally struggle with the hows and whys of transparency with the public when it comes to decisions.

Health services are a collaborative thing; we’re grateful for the fantastic healthcare we receive in our hospitals from dedicated staff doing a difficult job in challenging times for the NHS. But patients need to feel fully involved in any changes that might affect them profoundly and need to have faith they will be listened to.