We have all become accustomed to the Conservative Party’s disdain for our NHS since the shambles of the top-down reorganisation that began in 2012 paving the way for privatisation and fragmentation.
Now we have the introduction by stealth of Sustainability and Transformation Plans which are being demanded by Government from local areas and the driver for them is not to improve patient care but to make efficiencies, or as we call them, cuts.
For the purpose of these plans, South Shields is part of an arbitrarily created boundary by the Government of Northumberland and Tyne and Wear which is projected to have a shortfall of £960 million that it needs to balance its books yet still having to maintain the same level of care in the health and social care system.
Last week, I spoke in Parliament to defend South Tyneside District Hospital against the possible downgrading of acute services in a debate about the Government’s imposition of these plans, but what is more worrying is that the timescales for implementing these plans, which will radically transform our Hospital, are fast approaching.
As your MP I have still not seen a single plan nor have the Council of Governors, let alone the people of South Shields. I am extremely alarmed at the lack of accountability and transparency with which the plans are being pushed through without time for any consultation and, despite repeated requests, I have been given no clear blue print for what they hope to achieve or how they will benefit the residents of Shields, nor have I received any solid assurances that our Accident & Emergency department will remain as it is now, only that the service will be reviewed next year.
Earlier this year, our hospital formed an alliance with Sunderland Hospital and I strongly objected to the lack of consultation and expressed my fears that this was indeed a precursor to a merger between the relevant trusts. Now, a few months later, the Chief Executive of Sunderland Hospital is also the Chief Executive of South Tyneside Hospital.
People of the Borough will remember that Palmer’s Walk-in Centre in Jarrow, which was initially introduced to relieve pressure on A&E services in Shields, was closed in the face of public opposition and now the over-stretched services at South Tyneside District Hospital are under threat and may be added to the over-stretched services in Sunderland.
Since March I have been raising my concerns about this alliance and along with constituents and trade unions I have been campaigning to protect frontline services which are under threat.
Anyone who says that this is scaremongering are using the language of the Tories and I would urge NHS leaders to not go along with the Government on this and stand up for their Hospitals and the communities they serve.
This decade is set to be marked by the biggest funding squeeze in the history of the National Health Service and patients are paying the price.
Our NHS is in crisis and we need radical action to save it and further cuts and the downgrading of services could only compound this further by placing people at risk.