Campaigners have applied for a judicial review as they fight a shake-up of services at South Tyneside District Hospital.
The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign Group instructed specialist lawyers to apply for a judicial review against NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and NHS South Tyneside CCG.
We believe there are grounds for a judicial review of the decision takenYogi Amin
It comes after the health groups gave the go ahead to changes to the way maternity, stroke and children’s accident and emergency services will be delivered.
Phase one of the Path to Excellence programme has been referred to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt by South Tyneside Council and Sunderland City Council’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee.
The campaign group are now challenging the legality of the decision made by the clinical commissioning groups.
Yogi Amin, of public law specialists Irwin Mitchell, said: “We believe there are grounds for a judicial review of the decision taken by NHS managers at South Tyneside CCG and NHS Sunderland CCG on February 21, and have issued proceeding at court.”
A public consultation into the changes of three services at South Tyneside Hospital was held last year, and a joint decision was taken this Februrary by the CCGs to approve the proposals put forward by the two trusts.
Helen Smith, a public law specialist, added: “This is obviously a very important issue and one which affects thousands of people’s access to much needed, potentially life-saving local NHS hospital services.
“This is why it is crucial that any decision made in respect of those services, is made correctly and lawfully.
“The legal challenge raises questions around the decisions taken by the CCGs because of a potentially flawed consultation process which breached the principles of procedural fairness and decisions made on the basis of potential flaws in the transport analysis.
“Our clients believe the proposals to transfer the NHS services to Sunderland were based on a flawed assessment of the impact on patients and the criteria to assess the cost of this was also flawed.”
Roger Nettleship, a spokesman for the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign Group, said: “Our stand is to safeguard the future of South Tyneside Hospital and its acute and emergency services.
“Families are very concerned about their vital NHS children and women’s health hospital services.
“It is disappointing that after being urged to reconsider their actions, NHS Sunderland CCG and NHS South Tyneside CCG have shown no sign of being willing to do so.
“We believe that the proposed changes will be a potential disaster for the people of South Tyneside and Sunderland.
“This is because access to these acute NHS services will come under pressure by the closure of the services in South Tyneside.
“Under the current plans many vulnerable people will have to travel many miles, often during emergencies, to access specialist hospital care or to see loved ones in hospital.
“The aim of this plan is likely to leave people in South Tyneside with essentially a rehabilitation hospital, and everyone needing acute health care will have to travel to Sunderland or Newcastle.”
Until recently, a range of stroke services – including emergency treatment and specialist stroke nurse practitioners – were offered in both South Tyneside District Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Acute stroke services have temporarily been relocated to Sunderland Royal Hospital.
The CCGs’ proposal is to transfer all acute stroke services to Sunderland Royal Hospital permanently.
They also intend to develop a free-standing midwifery-led unit at South Tyneside Hospital, but relocate all consultant-led and special care baby unit services to Sunderland.
Matt Brown, director of operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “These critical changes have been about taking steps to protect services that are exceptionally vulnerable because of a severe shortage of skilled medical and nursing staff.
“These are highly important services for our patients and the CCGs took their decision making extremely seriously, based on clear clinical evidence.
“This legal challenge is based on almost identical issues to those identified by the South Tyneside and Sunderland Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee in their referral to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
“The Secretary of State has already commissioned a review from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) and set a deadline of June 8, 2018 to report back, in the context of the concerns raised by the local NHS around the vulnerability and fragility of these services.
“We would anticipate that the IRP advice would provide a way to resolve concerns without resorting to an expensive legal process.
“The local NHS has set out clearly the fragility of these services and we are deeply concerned about the additional delay that this legal process will bring, preventing us from making the vital changes that are needed for our patients.
“The trust has provided repeated reassurance that South Tyneside Hospital has a strong and vibrant future, serving local residents.
“These changes to services are about ensuring our services are appropriately staffed by the right numbers of skilled medical and nursing staff, so that we can provide the best possible care to local people.
“We are confident in our open and transparent public consultation process which has been awarded a certificate of ‘best practice’ from the independent Consultation Institute.
“We will continue to openly engage with staff, patients, stakeholders and elected members over the coming months as we work together to develop future plans for the best possible local hospital services.
“We are absolutely committed to securing the very best care for the people we serve, the residents of South Tyneside and Sunderland.”