I attended The Friends of the Friarage AGM last Friday and I was hugely encouraged by everything I heard about the future of our local hospital.

The Friends is a truly wonderful organisation which has provided invaluable support to the hospital’s staff and patients for more than 60 years. Throughout that time it has been an important focus for the tremendous goodwill the North Yorkshire community has for the Friarage.

In my speech to the meeting, I paid tribute to the many people who have been part of The Friends over the years, not least the retiring president Shirley Donaldson who has stepped down after a heroic 36 years as a trustee of the charity.

The Friends, backed by the hard work and dedication of volunteers like Shirley, has raised more than £5m during its existence and it is gearing up for another major effort as plans for the hospital’s development unfold.

I am very pleased to see more and more services being delivered from the Friarage site. In the last 18 months, despite Covid-19 and with the Friends’ help, we have seen welcome developments in renal services, meaning fewer trips to the James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough for dialysis, and the opening of the new ophthalmology unit which has doubled the amount of eye surgical procedures carried out at the Friarage.

In the summer, The Friends’ contribution of £400,000 made possible the opening of the STRIVE academic centre which will benefit medical students.

This last development is vitally important for the future of the hospital. I campaigned for more doctors to be trained in our region and I’m pleased to say that the additional trainee doctors from Hull York Medical School and other student healthcare professionals are using the centre. This in turn helps with future recruitment of staff to the Friarage. A positive training experience makes our hospital a more attractive career choice when medics are fully qualified.

I am sure many of you will have seen the major works that have been going on since October at the rear of the Friarage site. This is the next exciting development at the hospital.

Work has started on creating a new diagnostic hub on the hospital’s former ward 15. It will provide state-of-the-art facilities for patients undergoing urology and endoscopy procedures when it opens in the summer of 2022.

The current investment totalling £5m includes the demolition of the oldest parts of the hospital – some of which date back to the Second World War when they were used by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

It paves the way for the replacement of the ageing theatre block with new modern operating theatres. Plans for the new block have been completed and are going through the final stages of the business case assurance and approval process before they can be given the go-ahead.

All this points to a brighter future for our local hospital which will see more people treated there and fewer trips to James Cook for North Yorkshire patients. Indeed I know the Friarage doctors look forward to a time when the Friarage is treating patients from throughout the South Tees trust area ensuring its sustainable future.

As your MP, I am providing support and practical assistance to the hospital’s Trust as it brings forward these vital developments.

And as I heard on Friday, The Friends of the Friarage is once more ready to do its bit to help build an even better local hospital.