VULNERABLE women have been placed at risk by a cost-cutting decision to close a South Tyneside abortion clinic, angry councillors fear.
As revealed in the Gazette last week, health bosses have withdrawn Termination of Pregnancy Services (Tops) at the borough’s district hospital because of financial pressures.
South Tyneside women must now attend alternative clinics at hospitals in Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle, although it is hoped that the service will be re-established within the borough as soon as viable.
But the move, taken by South Tyneside Foundation NHS Trust in collaboration with health commissioners, was lambasted by members of South Tyneside overview and scrutiny committee yesterday.
Coun Eddie McAtominey, Labour representative for Hebburn, said: “If this was a decision taken over pennies and pence, it is absolutely deplorable.
“Does anyone from the Foundation Trust realise how appalling the public transport is to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead or to Sunderland? This is putting vulnerable women at risk.
“This decision should be rectified, and the service re-instated as soon as possible.”
Committee chairman Coun Audrey McMillan, Labour representative for Beacon and Bents, added: “This is a double whammy for these young ladies. They may not have the finance available to travel to these locations out of the borough.”
Coun Geraldine White, independent member for Fellgate and Hedworth, predicted the move could prove the “thin end of the wedge”. She said staff at the Harton Lane hospital’s maternity unit had disclosed that the facility was also under threat, although only last month, the Trust denied rumours that the unit was to close.
Coun White said: “This reinforces my fear that the maternity unit could be next. I can’t express my disgust at the Foundation Trust for coming out with this.”
Paul Baldasera, the council’s scrutiny officer, said criticism of the Foundation Trust should be “seen in context”. He said: “Unfortunately, no one from the Foundation Trust is here today.
“The closure decision was taken because it was decided they couldn’t compete in terms of costs with Gateshead and Sunderland.
“The Trust have been cast in the role of villain here, but it was a decision taken in conjunction with the health commissioners.”
Earlier, Janice Chandler, sexual health lead commissioner with NHS South of Tyne and Wear, said GPs were receiving training to improve patient access to contraceptives – in a bid to reduce the need for terminations.
That news was met with scepticism from Coun McMillan, who said: “I would have thought GPs would have been the last to need training.”
Latest statistics show there were 416 abortions carried out at South Tyneside last year.
Committee members asked for a representative of South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust to attend their next meeting to outline the reason for the removal of Tops, and to outline the long-term future of the district hospital’s maternity unit.
A spokeswoman for South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust said: “Any decision over service changes is taken with our commissioners.
“The commissioners have made a commitment to re-providing this service locally.”