Council leader’s open letter over South Tyneside hospital services shake-up plans

Consultation is under way over three areas of services run by South Tyneside District Hospital, seen here, and Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Consultation is under way over three areas of services run by South Tyneside District Hospital, seen here, and Sunderland Royal Hospital.

The first consultation event on the controversial plan to revamp hosptal services in South Tyneside takes place tonight.

The event is being held at The Customs House, South Shields, from 6pm to 8pm.

South Tyneside Council Leader, Coun Iain Malcolm

South Tyneside Council Leader, Coun Iain Malcolm

South Tyneside Council Leader IAIN MALCOLM has given his views on the process.

We all value our NHS, it’s the envy of the world and provides a public service second to none.

But the NHS is arguably facing the most challenging time in its 70 year history and with the re-election of the Tory Government (albeit with the help of the Ulster Unionists) there will be no let-up in their austerity programme which has affected the whole of the public sector.

Faced with unprecedented financial pressures, workforce and recruitment challenges, clinical quality standard requirements, and the ambition to deliver seven day working in emergency, South Tyneside and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGS) have embarked on a large-scale public consultation exercise on the future of some of our key local health services.

The review programme is a long one and this first consultation phase is only the beginning. Initial proposals, which have been developed by clinical leaders (doctors, nurses and therapists) working across South Tyneside and Sunderland, are looking at the future of stroke, obstetrics and gynaecology (including maternity), and emergency care for children.

The proposals aim to ensure these services offer the best possible quality to patients in future and crucially, that they meet all national guidelines around the quality of clinical care. Discussion around other services provided at both hospitals will be forthcoming by both CCGs early next year.

Operating with less money from the Government, reducing need for some services (such as acute stroke) and a lack of specialist staff, the two hospitals need to see how they can work more closely together, making best use of the resources they have been allocated and maximising the available expertise of staff.

I know that the priority is absolutely on patient safety, through the provision of good quality and sustainable services at both sites.

Without these reviews South Tyneside and Sunderland hospitals would continue to struggle to recruit staff for certain elements of these critical services because of a lack of specialists being trained in the UK and the quality and safety of these services will suffer as a result. I also know that healthcare leaders are keen to keep services as close to home as possible where it is clinically safe to do so.

So faced with pressures both financial AND in recruiting specialists, they are now consulting the public on options clinicians have provided.

I would urge residents across South Tyneside and Sunderland to have their say in the consultation as these are the services that impact on our family, friends and community. Changes will affect our communities here in South Tyneside, but it is important to remember it also affects our neighbours in Sunderland too.

The Council has established a Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee with Sunderland Council to scrutinise the proposals in detail and provide a formal response. This includes seeking and scrutinising evidence of economic, social and health impacts to residents in both boroughs and how any such negative impacts will be mitigated if the changes are approved.

The Joint OSC has specific scrutiny powers and it retains the power to refer the proposal to the Secretary of State for Health – but it does not have the power to stop the consultation or service reviews being undertaken.

The Joint OSC will be able to provide the strong public and political scrutiny we require of these plans in a clear and transparent way. The Joint OSC will meet in public which means that communities can see and hear the debate first-hand.

The findings of the Path to Excellence consultation are being collected and analysed independently and they will be presented to the Joint OSC and made public. These findings will be used to adapt and finalise the options and establish the preferred service arrangements. The final decisions about future service arrangements will be taken by the Clinical Commissioning Groups covering South Tyneside and Sunderland.

All local public services are under significant pressure due to Government austerity that started in 2010. This pressure has not relented in the last seven years and chronic underfunding has led to a lack of specialist workforce across the country. Like local Councils, hospital trusts need to make best use of the resources they have and to do this in conjunction with our communities and by listening to your views.

I share the concerns of our local MPs that the Tory Government is systematically undermining our health service and I’ll continue to campaign with them for the re-election of a Labour Government pledged to invest in our public services.

Both South Tyneside and Sunderland hospitals have a sustainable future, but both need to work together, pooling resources and sharing specialist support to ensure a safe service for local residents.

I urge you to take part in the consultation, have your say.