A hospital trust chief who has “championed” radical changes to health services in South Tyneside is leaving his post – sparking further fears over their future among campaigners.
But Steve Williamson insists he will continue to work in the best interests of patients in what he sees as “the only course of action which will enable us to safeguard the future provision of hospital and health services in South Tyneside”.
The move came as South Tyneside Council revealed it is to set up a special scrutiny committee to examine the whole issue of change and the alliance between South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust, which has led to a wave of protest.
The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) was launched over fears that South Tyneside District Hospital may lose acute services, like A&E, because of the alliance.
The alliance, The South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group, was announced earlier this year in a bid to improve services and sustainability.
Last month, this partnership saw Mr Williamson, who was previously the chief executive become deputy chief executive, while Ken Bremner, Sunderland’s top boss, was appointed as chief executive across both trusts.
A fortnight ago it was revealed that the borough’s stroke unit in Harton Lane, South Shields, is to be temporarily centralised at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Gemma Taylor, the campaign group co-ordinator and South Tyneside Public Service Alliance member, says she is now wanting to hear who will be flying the flag for South Tyneside’s health care needs once Mr Williamson leaves early next year.
She said: “We want answers. Will Mr Williamson’s post be advertised and then filled?
“Will we still have a deputy chief executive fighting the corner for healthcare needs in South Tyneside?
“Once he leaves, will the post be scrapped in a bid to make savings? We want to know what’s going to be happening next.”
She added: “Our trust’s role of chief executive has been taken over by Sunderland and now we’re losing our deputy too. What will we have left in South Tyneside?”
The trust has declined to comment on whether the post will be filled.
Roger Nettleship chairman of the SSTHC, believes Mr Williamson’s departure means there’s now no accountable authority for the public to have confidence in.
He said: “We think it emphasises that there is no accountable authority that we can have confidence in, both at government, regional, or local level, in standing up for our NHS acute and community services other than ourselves and the hospital staff.
“We need to do everything we can to involve people in our campaign to fight to save our hospital and our NHS.”
Mr Williamson says he will continue to work closely with Mr Bremner in his final months.
He said: “I believe the creation of the Healthcare Group by our two trusts puts us in the best possible position to address the formidable challenges in the NHS.
“We have rightly set ourselves on the only course of action which will enable us to safeguard the future provision of hospital and health services in South Tyneside and Sunderland.
“I will work closely with Ken and our board over the coming months to do everything I can, in the interests of our patients, to support our trust and our Healthcare Group to help secure the future sustainability of our important hospital and community health services.”
The campaign group is hosting a rally next Saturday, October 22.
Members will be meeting at 11.30am at the clock next to Haven Point, in Pier Parade, South Shields.
They will then be walking along Ocean Road and Fowler Street before gathering outside TSB, next to Market Place, at 12.30pm.