MPs and campaigners yesterday rallied in a last-ditch protest to save a range of hospital services in South Tyneside.
The borough’s Labour MPs – Emma Lewell-Buck and Stephen Hepburn –joined about 200 demonstrators in a show of strength outside South Tyneside District Hospital.
They vowed to fight any loss of key services – including stroke treatment, children’s A&E and maternity.
With a decision due on Wednesday, the MPs said they hoped the demonstration would sway health chiefs towards keeping the status quo.
Along with the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) group, they vowed to fight on, even if the decision goes against them, with an option being to seek a judicial review.
Mrs Lewell-Buck, who represents South Shields, said: “I’m hoping they have listened to the people and campaigners and to what I’ve been saying, and that is that it’s not safe or sustainable to make these changes.
“In Jeremy Hunt we have a health secretary who wrote a book about privatising the health service – the Government is chipping away at the NHS bit by bit and this is part of that.”
Jarrow MP Mr Hepburn, added: “I don’t know what will happen on Wednesday, but I hope that this protest today will have a big input in the decision-making process.
“This is not the end of the campaign, it’s the end of the beginning and we will carry on and redouble our efforts to save these services if the decision goes against us.
“These are key and crucial services, but the consultation has been what I can a ‘shamshultation’ and we saw exactly the same thing happen with the walk-in centre in Jarrow.”
Roger Nettleship, chairman of SSTHC, said: “The marvellous support we had today from staff at the hospital, their trade unions, the people of South Tyneside, including councillors and both our MPs, shows that people are continuing to fight against the downgrading of these services.We will be lobbying the CCG next Wednesday when they make their decision.
“Whatever their decision, we will continue to fight and are already seeking advice on lodging a judicial review.”
Last month, council chiefs in South Tyneside and Sunderland delivered a withering assessment of the planned changes.
The CCGs will give their decision on Wednesday at Hebburn Central, in Glen Street, between 2pm and 4pm.
The public is invited to attend, and the meeting will also be broadcast live on YouTube.
A link to the channel will be available by visiting www.pathtoexcellence.org.uk.
Health chief says change is needed for better services
Health chiefs in South Tyneside say they recognise public concern around the proposed downgrading of services in South Tyneside – but insist there are choices to be made if the best possible local provision was to be maintained.
Dr Matthew Walmsley, chairman of NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We know it’s difficult and we know that people will get emotional about it, but we have to make choices if we want the best possible local services.
“As a local GP, I see the consequences of any changes to the NHS at first hand.
“I see the people worried about whether they will be able to afford to visit relatives with a stroke in Sunderland. I see women worrying about where to have their baby.
“But I also see the people with lives devastated by disabling strokes. I see people coping with having a baby stillborn for years after it happens or bringing up a disabled child because of a problem shortly after their birth.
“And I am crystal clear that I want the best health services I can possibly get for my patients. We’ve spent a lot of time listening to what people think of the proposals. People are right to care very deeply about the NHS, and I understand that most people would prefer it if things didn’t really have to change.
“But things do have to change, or we’ll risk either seeing more temporary service suspensions – which are good for nobody.
“This is about taking the best scientific knowledge of what works to save lives, and putting it together with the skilled people and money that we’ve got available to us and coming up with the best solution that keeps people alive and well the longest.”
“And that’s what the CCG’s decision will be about when we make it next week.”