Campaigners say NHS plans to “improve” care at South Tyneside District Hospital will amount to a “downgrading” of its services.
They say the review of stroke, children’s A&E and maternity and woman’s services would lead to a reduction of the departments at the hospital, in Harton Lane, South Shields.
They have raised concerns about the risk to health of people who will face extra travel time to Sunderland as well as difficulties for their loved ones.
A demonstration was staged outside Jarrow Community Centre by Save South Tyneside Hospital today, ahead of the launch of the Path to Excellence consultation process, which will run until mid-October.
Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour’s MP for South Shields, said she plans to raise the issue with the Government and has warned it is part of a plan to privatise health services.
She has said she wants the consultation to be halted over concerns passed on by staff who, she says, claiming they have been “locked out” of discussions.
She says the review has failed to follow the due process and lacks transparency.
NHS bosses say the consultation document aims to improve service delivery and has be compiled with the co-operation of staff and specialists.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “This proves that, last year, when people said I and the Save the South Tyneside Hospital Campaign were scaremongering, that we weren’t.
“They want to downgrade our hospital and move services to Sunderland. What our Government wants to do is privatise by stealth.
“It is trying to shut down bits of our hospital, then shut down a bit more, then they will take services to other hospitals and they won’t be able to cope.”
She added: “Then the hospital will close and then there won’t be an NHS and it will be opened up to the market.
“Jeremy Hunt has written books on privatisation and he is our health secretary, this is what we’re dealing with.”
Roger Nettleship, chairman of the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign, said: “These are vital services for South Tyneside, accessed by thousands of people.
“They say it is not financially driven but a path to excellence, but it’s not a path to excellence, it’s a path to disaster, driven by massive financial cuts to our health service.
“Other hospitals across the country are going down this road and people in this area have to fight back.”
Gemma Taylor, co-ordinator for the campaign and a Unison area organiser, said: “They say this is going to be excellent for health care, but it will be cuts for the people of Sunderland and
“We are concerned about how it will impact on the ambulance service.
“For people with children who need to go to A&E, how will they get to the hospital if they haven’t got a car, can they afford a taxi?
“The North East Ambulance Service is already struggling.”
The group has also raised the question of how many clinicians were spoken to as the options were being put together.
Janet Green, 57, from Boldon, is branch secretary for the union and has used the services at South Tyneside.
She added: “At the end of it, in an emergency, you need to go to the nearest hospital, if you have a broken bone, having a stroke, more than anything, it will take you longer to get to
Sunderland than it will to South Shields.”
Shirley Ford led a choir who sang songs in support of the NHS outside the venue.
She said: “I think it’s very important how positive this campaign has been because it’s a cross party group of people, and I think that shows the strength of feeling, with a local alliance.
“I am also secretary of the local public transport user group and it is very concerned about the travelling and the cost people will face.”
The issue will be discussed at the group’s next meeting on Thursday, July 20, at 2pm at Age Concern, off Beach Road in South Shields.
NHS chiefs say change must happen
The launch of the consultation heard the NHS in the North East faces difficulties in recruiting staff to lead the services which have been put in the spotlight.
The event at Jarrow Community Centre was the first of 11 lined up as part of the consultation on the Path to Excellence, which has been drafted up to list a series of options covering the stroke, children’s A&E and maternity and women’s care offered from South Tyneside District Hospital, as well as Sunderland Royal.
A “temporary” change has already been made to stroke services, which sees patients sent to Sunderland for their initial care.
In addition to tackling the struggle both hospitals face to recruit specialists – which it says because consultants prefer to join bigger units – it heard the service has spent £1million on paying for locum doctor cover for women’s and maternity services because of the problems in attracting staff.
Dr David Hambleton, accountable officer for the NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, opened the session by saying it was now time when people and staff members could have their say.
He added: “Jarrow people feel very passionately about the NHS and suffer from health inequalities too.”
Ken Bremner, chief executive officer of South Tyneside and Sunderland City Hospital Trust, said it “did not believe it was able to improve the quality of the service” without changes being made.
He added the review would also help the service become accessible seven days a week.
Dr Shaz Wahid, medical director for South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It is absolutely essential the cost of the South Tyneside and Sunderland pound is stretched.”
The meeting was told that no change was not an option.
How to have your say
Patients and their loved ones have been urged to have their say on the proposals.
The details of the consultation can be viewed via www.pathtoexcellence.org.uk.
Feedback through those pages, questionnaires filled out on paper and views given at a series of events will be put together and help shape the final decisions.
The deadline is Sunday, October 15, and decisions are due to be made by the two clinical commissioning groups next year.
People have been asked to register to say they will attend the meetings.
*General consultation discussion event: Wednesday, July, 12, from 6pm to 8pm, at the Customs House, Mill Dam, South Shields.
*A talk focused on maternity, women’s and children’s services: Saturday, July 15, from 10am to noon, The Clervaux Exchange, Clervaux Place, Jarrow, NE32 5UP.
*Stroke services talk: Wednesday 19, 6pm to 8pm, Living Waters, St. Jude’s Terrace, Laygate, South Shields, NE33 5PB.
*General consultation discussion event, Wednesday, September 13, 1pm to 3pm, Customs House, Mill Dam, South Shields, NE33 1ES.
Anyone interested in hosting a session can get in contact via email@example.com, the nhsexcellence Facebook page, @NHSexcellence on Twitter or by calling 0191 217 2670.
Letters can be sent to The Path to Excellence, Freepost RTUS–LYHZ–BRLE, North of England Commissioning Support, Riverside House, Goldcrest Way, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE15 8NY.
The programme is led by the clinical commissioning groups in South Tyneside and Sunderland, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust – working as the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Partnership.