Council leader says ‘We will have to accept why it has to happen’ during meeting on health trusts merger plan

South Tyneside District Hospital.
South Tyneside District Hospital.

A council leader has spoken out about plans to merge two health trusts, stressing the need to provide a “safe service” in the South Tyneside area.

South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group – made up of health trusts from both areas – announced earlier this year intentions to become one body. 

With a draft strategic plan now submitted, both trusts must wait for approval from NHS Improvement – the first step before gathering feedback from staff and stakeholders.

South Tyneside Council leader Coun Iain Malcolm has said the merger would help “save South Tyneside Hospital and lead to improved services on site”.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s health and wellbeing board, where he sits as chairman, he said health trusts would need to inform stakeholders what the merger “is and isn’t”.

“It has a lot of positives and from a starting point we will have to accept why it has to happen,” he explained. “Both trusts don’t have the cash and they’re all fighting over a dwindling number of clinicians.

“We have to provide a safe service across the South Tyneside area.

“It’s the reality of where we are.”

The comments followed a verbal update from the deputy chief executive of the South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Carol Harries, who detailed merger plans.

Speaking at the meeting at Haven Point Leisure Centre, she said both boards agreed it was an “appropriate way forward” with an “awful lot of work that needs to happen in the next few months.”

Feedback on the draft strategic plan is expected next month with the business case taking seven to eight months to develop and a merger expected in April 2019, she added.

The merger also falls against a backdrop of proposed changes to stroke, maternity, gynaecology and childrens’ emergency services at South Tyneside District Hospital.

Campaigners from the ‘Save South Tyneside Hospital’ have expressed fears about the proposals under phase one of the ‘Path to Excellence’ consultation.

The programme has now been referred to health secretary Jeremy Hunt by a South Tyneside and Sunderland City Council joint scrutiny committee.

Hospital campaigners have launched a judicial review and have been supported by South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, who stated the decision was made “against the views of the public and local clinicians”.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service