Save South Tyneside Hospital campaigners turn out in rain to protest against ‘downgrading’ of children’s A&E
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More than 50 demonstrators gathered at the Harton Lane entrance to the hospital from 12pm on Friday, July 30, as part of a last-ditch call to halt changes that will see children’s A&E replaced with a new nurse-led urgent care unit, meaning life-threatening cases must be treated at Sunderland Royal Hospital from August 4.
The changes are part of the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s controversial ‘Path to Excellence’ shake-up, which health chiefs say has already seen improvements to patient care.
Other changes have seen a midwife-led birthing unit set up at the hospital and stroke services moved to Sunderland – which hospital bosses say has saved lives.
But Save South Tyneside Hospital campaigners say the changes amount to a downgrading of services, and fear more are in the pipeline.
“As far as we’re concerned, the ‘Path to Excellence’ that the trust and the CCG [Clinical Commissioning Group] have come up with is a path to disaster,” said campaigner and borough resident, Kay Smith.
"All it’s doing is shrinking the services in South Tyneside – everything seems to be going elsewhere.
"They’re on a mission to create what they’re saying is a ‘bigger, brighter and better’ service and what we’re being given is more ‘choice’.
"But effectively what we’re losing here is the choice to have our children seen and treated in South Tyneside. We don’t want to have to travel anywhere else for this – we want it here.”
She added: “They’ve pushed on regardless, though. The equivalent of a third of the South Tyneside population signed the petition that was handed in to Parliament this summer.”
The MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, spoke at the rally, asserting that campaigners had not lost hope of reversing the decision.
“You can see the strength of feeling here,” she said.
"It’s pouring down with rain and we’ve got people people out here fighting for the hospital.
"There are people who are living close to this hospital whose child won’t be able to come to it to get help – they’ll have to go to Sunderland or somewhere else.
"Seconds count if someone’s life is on the line, never mind the minutes or hours it could take to get to another hospital in order to get seen to.
“This campaign’s five years in. None of us have lost hope yet – and we’ll keep going because we care about the people here.”
The trust insisted it was ‘striving for the same goal as the campaign group’ by pressing ahead with the controversial plans.
“Our Path to Excellence programme has only ever been about improving patient care and making sure the safety and quality of services is secured in South Tyneside,” said Dr Shaz Wahid, the trust’s medical director.
"In many respects, we are striving for the same goal as the campaign group - to safeguard hospital services.
“The changes already made in Phase One have delivered fantastic improvements in patient care – lives have been saved through our stroke changes, babies are still being born in South Tyneside with 100% satisfaction amongst families who have used our new Birthing Centre and children will continue to have access to the very best specialist care when they need urgent help."