South Tyneside hospital campaigners' fury after Government brushes off petition over services
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Campaigners have been battling health chiefs for years over changes under the ‘Path to Excellence’ following the merger of South Tyneside and Sunderland’s NHS hospital trusts.
Leaders at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation trust say the changes are aimed at improving patient care and making sure the safety and quality of services.
But campaigners feel the hospital is having its services taken away, and fear others may follow in future.
A petition against any plans to close acute services at South Tyneside District Hospital and to safeguard its Accident and Emergency Service gathered 44,000 signatures when it was submitted to Parliament in June.
The official ‘observations’ on the petition have now been returned. They state: "There are no plans to move all acute services away from South Tyneside District Hospital.
“The ‘Path to Excellence’ Programme of reconfiguration of services at South Tyneside is a five-year programme across South Tyneside and Sunderland to optimise the services available across the region.
“Due to Covid-19 the five-year programme was paused to support staff to prioritise the pandemic response, but the CCG are now looking to resume this reconfiguration process.
“NHS England will share more detailed plans later this year, which will then go out to consultation.
"This initial focus is on improving surgical services, including at the Accident and Emergency Department, to make sure more people have timely access to operations and reducing the significant backlog of patients now waiting for treatment.
“The changes already made to improve stroke and maternity services have had good feedback following consultation with patients.
"The final stages of the urgent paediatric care improvements are taking place this summer.”
Bosses say the new ‘South Tyneside Urgent Care for Children’ will treat the ‘vast majority’ of children who attend hospital with urgent, non-life threatening problems, and will continue to operate from 8am to 10pm every day in the same location.
Children with any major, life-threatening problems will be cared for at Sunderland Royal Hospital, as they already are overnight.
Other changes at the South Tyneside hospital site have seen the creation of a midwife-led birthing centre, and moving stroke services to Sunderland.
Chiefs said the changes already made to improve stroke, maternity and paediatric services have had ‘fantastic feedback from patients’.
Save South Tyneside Hospital campaigners called the response to their petition ‘an insult’ to those living in the borough and stressed that changes were ‘not an improvement.’
Roger Nettleship, chairman of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, said: "The people of South Tyneside, through their petition, called on the Government 'to stop any plans to close acute services at South Tyneside District Hospital and to safeguard its Accident and Emergency Service.'
"Their reply that 'there are no plans to move all acute services away from South Tyneside District Hospital', does nothing to reassure the people of South Tyneside that they will have access to vital acute and emergency services in the borough without having a less safe journey to emergency services in other parts of the region.
"They say for example that; ‘the final stages of the urgent paediatric care improvements are taking place this summer,' yet this means that by the Trust's own figures – which show that, 20% of the most serious life-threatening cases that now attend Children's A&E – will now have to go to Sunderland where services will be inevitably more overcrowded with emergencies.
"This is not an improvement.
"This reply is an insult to the people of South Tyneside and shows that the Government no longer has responsibility to provide a comprehensive health service across England to all communities which the petition called the Government to account on."
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has also reacted with anger and vowed to do all she can to stop the ‘further downgrading’ of services in South Tyneside.
Ms Lewell-Buck said: “This response is an insult to my constituents, it is an insult to the 44,000 people who signed this petition and it is an insult to all of us who manned stalls week after week and held rallies to highlight and fight against the loss of vital services from our hospital.
"My constituents know our services have been lost because we are the ones who have had to go elsewhere for our care needs to be met.
“How dare this Tory Government, whose cuts have forced these changes, state that lost services are an ‘improvement’ for my constituents.
"This has not dented my resolve and I will continue with the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign to do all I can to return vital services and stop further downgrading.
"My constituents' health and safety will never be something I compromise on.”
Speaking in response, Dr Shaz Wahid, medical director at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “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. 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."