THE leader of South Tyneside Council has expressed solidarity with health bosses over controversial service changes.
Borough youngsters who need long-term treatment – more than 24 hours – will travel to Sunderland Royal Hospital and the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle for care.
South Tyneside Primary Care Trust and NHS South of Tyne and Wear took the decision after carrying out a public consultation.
But the move has come under fire from some parents whose children are treated at the Harton Lane hospital in South Shields.
During a town hall question and answer session this week, Labour council leader Iain Malcolm was asked to comment on the changes.
And he defended the right of borough health bosses to “look at their budgets and find ways to operate more effectively”.
Just as the health trusts have faced financial pressure, Coun Malcolm has needed to oversee more than £70m of council saving efficiencies over the last two and a half years – a result of massive reductions in Government funding.
He said: “I have no problem with the South Tyneside health trusts. There is still a children’s ward in South Tyneside and there is still overnight provision, but the recommendation is that children needing surgery are transferred to Sunderland, where the specialist staff are based.
“It was a logical decision for the South of Tyne trusts to take, and as a consequence the foundation trust now has a much larger revenue budget as the administrator of all community-based staff in the area.
“This will allow more people to stay in their homes as long as possible, and to get them back home as quickly as possible.”
Coun Malcolm also said the council and health trusts must work together to prevent unnecessary duplication of services.
His views come as the council prepares to take over public health responsibilities from the borough’s Primary Care Trust from April.
Priorities will include reducing smoking and alcohol misuse, and improving residents’ diets.
Under the changes to children’s services, 24-hour assessment units are being established in hospitals in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside, and the work of the children’s community nursing team will be extended to offer support to sick youngsters in their homes.