PLANS to axe an elderly care ward have sparked fears over the future of Palmer Community Hospital in Jarrow.
At a reportedly emotional meeting this week, nurses and auxiliary staff were told plans to close Ward 3 at the town centre hospital were being brought forward.
The ward will close on Friday, June 20, when the remaining two elderly patients will be transferred to South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.
But the news comes less than a fortnight after plans were revealed to close the Jarrow Walk-In Centre at Palmer Community Hospital.
Although staff have been told their jobs are safe, the move has triggered doubts about the long-term future of the hospital.
A concerned parent of one of the affected staff said: “I think Palmer Hospital is just being run down and down. I believe there has been a policy of not admitting patients to that ward.
“Some of the staff were in tears when they were told the ward was closing. They are a good, hard-working medical team and now it looks like they are going to be split up.
“I think the NHS is just riding roughshod over the staff, and I wonder what is going to happen to Palmer Community Hospital in the long run.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has already expressed his opposition to plans to close the Jarrow Walk-In Centre.
He has expressed “serious concerns” about the hospital’s future, and plans to meet NHS managers and unions about the latest closure plans.
He said: “It just seems that Palmer Community Hospital is being run down. I have arranged to meet union officials from Unison and management at the hospital in the next week or two to express my concerns.
“It seems like services at Palmer are being dismantled bit by bit, and we must do all we can to reverse this decline.
“The hospital is a vital service for the people of Jarrow, some of whom campaigned to get Palmer’s built in the first place.”
The planned closure follows a consultation exercise by NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, which argues the service has not taken any pressure off the local A&E department, as first planned.
Steve Jamieson, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s director of corporate services, said: “For quite a while, we have had plans to establish a centre of excellence for elderly care based at South Tyneside District Hospital, and our intention has always been to incorporate our elderly care ward at Palmer Community Hospital, Jarrow, within this.
“However, due to an impending senior medical vacancy, for which we have been unable to recruit a suitably-qualified candidate, despite extensive searching, both in the UK and abroad, we have had to bring forward the plans.
“In the interests of patient safety, we feel the best, short-term solution for the patients at Palmer Community Hospital, who currently number only two, is for them to be cared for on existing wards at the district hospital by Friday, June 20.
“I can assure staff that there are no plans for anyone currently working on Ward 3 at Palmer Community Hospital to lose their job as a consequence of this move.”