Campaigners fear new management structure moves hospitals’ merger a step closer

Gemma Taylor, left, at a recent vigil outside South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.
Gemma Taylor, left, at a recent vigil outside South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.

Campaigners have expressed deep concern over a new joint management structure between two hospital trusts as part of an alliance.

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust have announced there is to be a single executive and management team accountable for running all hospital and community services across both areas.

We think this is a merger behind closed doors.

Gemma Taylor

Both trusts, who formed an alliance earlier this year, say they will continue to function as statutory NHS Foundation Trusts.

However, members of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) group, which was created over concerns that the borough’s acute services may be relocated to Wearside, believe the new structure is part of a ‘merger behind closed doors’.

Yesterday members met with Steve Williamson, chief executive of South Tyneside’s trust to express their fears.

Mr Williamson says the latest move is necessary to ‘secure sustainable and improved health services’ in both areas.

He said: “We appreciate the concerns that some people in South Tyneside may have during these changes but the approach we are taking is necessary to secure sustainable and improved health services in both South Tyneside and Sunderland in the future.

“Our commitment to continuing to provide local services in South Tyneside is demonstrated by the Trust’s recent investment. For example, Haven Court, a new £9million centre of excellence for integrated health and social care for older people, has been built on the hospital site and will open next week. The first phase of a £1.6 million surgical centre in the hospital to improve patient experience opened this month and it will be fully operational this winter. We have also agreed further investment including a new £1.5million MRI scanner.”

Gemma Taylor, SSTHC organiser, says campaigners believe the management team has been created to speed up changes.

She said: “Even though the chief executive, Steve Williamson agreed to meet with us to explain the position we made it clear that we think this is a merger behind closed doors to avoid consultation and it will mean that even the formal consultation process on such a merger will be rendered meaningless until it is too late.

“We think this option has also been picked to speed up the process of change to services.

“This has heightened our concerns for the future of healthcare in South Tyneside and Sunderland.”

The campaign group’s next meeting will be at the Alberta Social Club in Railway Street in Jarrow, on Monday, August 1, at 6.30pm.