Councillor Iain Malcolm: My side of the story on South Tyneside District Hospital controversy
South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm has spoken out over his stance on the issues facing the borough’s main hospital.
In a statement to the Gazette, which can be read in full below, he hits out at the government cuts and the failure to train clinicians in time.
Coun Malcolm, who is chair of the council’s health and well-being board and a paid non-executive director of South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, spoke out after calls for him to make his position clear in light of the campaign to save South Tyneside Hospital.
The campaign was launched following the formation of an alliance between South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.
Many in the borough fear this will lead to services being taken away from South Tyneside District Hospital.
Plans have already been announced to move the stroke service to Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn signed the campaign’s petition during a recent visit to Jarrow.
A motion has also been passed by Jarrow Labour Constituency Party which condemns the stroke services being taken out of South Tyneside and calls for no more services to go.
The group is calling on Labour councillors and South Tyneside Council to support it.
The campaign, being spearheaded by the South Tyneside Public Service Alliance and the Green Party, has almost 3,000 signatures on its online petition with thousands more signing in support of the campaign.
Last week, the leader of the South Tyneside Green Party, Shirley Ford, called on Coun Malcolm to publicly state where he stood specifically on the Save the Hospital campaign.
She said: “I understand the leader is in a position where he is a non-executive director of the Trust and chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, and this petition is addressed to those bodies who all share the responsibilty in the decision making on this.”
She added: “Obviously we would like a clearer statement from the council leader.
“It’s not enough to say he is fully supporting the NHS but the provision of a full A&E and acute services in our borough despite the financial pressures coming from the government.
“As a campaign group we want much more of a public statement from the leader of the council, as this is his primary role.
He is elected as a councillor and as leader he must be making more of a public statement.
“Whether he signs the petition is another issue, but as an elected official people should know his stance on this issue and if he supports the campaign or not.”
THE STATEMENT IN FULL
This week I was delighted to meet with Clare Williams, the new Regional Secretary of UNISON, the region’s biggest trade union.
Our discussions, covered a range of issues, but central to our talks was the acceptance that our NHS is in crisis.
At the end of March 2016 over 150 health providers nationally were showing a financial deficit. This didn’t come about because the hospital management were negligent or in some way incompetent, but because quite simply the Government is starving the NHS of cash and using “austerity” as an excuse for carrying out an ideological attack against public services.
Clare and I also agreed that privatisation of our NHS services simply isn’t working and that there is a severe shortage of trained clinicians across the country. Last week at the Tory Party Conference the Conservatives also conceded that there are simply not enough doctors and health professionals that the country needs. Only now is the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, acting to address this issue, but given it takes seven years to train a doctor, it’s a crisis that will not be solved quickly.
Similar to local councils, the financial challenges and increasing demand on services facing the NHS nationally, regionally and locally are unprecedented. For the South Tyneside and Sunderland health system, there is a potential 15 – 20 per cent funding gap by 2020/21 for total healthcare spend, which will place enormous pressure on hospital and community services.
But the plain reality is that because of funding pressures, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust will run out of cash as early as summer 2017, with Sunderland potentially in the same position in 2018, unless we take action now, which is what the South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group was set up to do.
This problem isn’t unique to our area, Foundation Trusts across the country are facing the same pressures, running out of cash, whilst demand for services increases and the Government hasn’t trained enough clinicians.
To try and address the problem, the Government have now insisted that Health Services across regions develop what are called Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) which seeks to target funding at preventative measures and deliver health care provision by pooling resources, in an effort to mask the chronic underfunding of our NHS.
Running alongside that process is the need to ensure that South Tyneside and Sunderland hospitals continue to deliver the right healthcare and community services provision for the residents they serve. It means balancing the books so that both Trusts and the services they provide have a long-term sustainable future. The most important objective is to provide the right outcomes for our patients.
As someone who has lived in South Shields all my life, I value our hospital, I have been required to use it, I am proud of the staff who work there and I am determined, with my Labour Party colleagues, to do all we can to ensure vital services remain in the Borough. So whilst I fully support the sentiments behind the petition raised by the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign and have no personal objections to signing it, I am concerned that it could undermine my ability to speak out in support of their objectives at both FT Board meetings and at meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board which I Chair.
At a minimum everyone expects access to Accident and Emergency, routine maternity services, end of life care, diagnosis, and routine minor operations to be available at their local hospital. In all of the discussions that I have attended with Foundation Trust Executives (including a public meeting of STFT) health executives have been very clear that they have every intention of protecting these services, however, all services need to be subject to a clinical review, and, if significant changes are then proposed, there will be wide-ranging public consultation which is a legal requirement.
Accident and Emergency services will be reviewed in 2017 but it has been made absolutely clear that the vision is that patients and residents of South Tyneside will continue to access urgent and emergency care at South Tyneside District Hospital.
But whilst access to those services can be provided at both hospitals it will still be a financial and in some cases a clinical challenge. Other services which will also be subject to clinical services reviews, with public consultation, may need to be reorganised - with some delivered on South Tyneside and others at Sunderland, because the lack of specialist clinicians means that certain services may be vulnerable if delivered on both sites.
With regards to the Stroke unit which is currently in that situation, this is a temporary transfer to Sunderland – not because of some sinister plan but simply because the local hospital has been unable to recruit an appropriate clinician. As I highlighted earlier this is due to a lack of qualified people nationally and is part of the huge staff shortages that the NHS are facing.
Once final recommendations are prepared as to which services, including stroke, will be delivered at each site a public consultation exercise will need to be taken before any plans can be implemented. In addition, the Overview Scrutiny Committees of both South Tyneside and Sunderland Councils will be meeting in regular session to grill health chiefs to ensure democratic oversight and to challenge recommendations made by the Trusts.
I appreciate that public transport is a huge issue and that is why both myself and Cllr Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council have asked Nexus to put in place a secured express bus service between Sunderland and South Tyneside so that residents can access facilities at both hospitals when they need them.
In a perfect world every town would have their own hospital with all services provided under one roof, however, we do not live in a perfect world and as a consequence the NHS provides services within the budget they have been given by the Government and with the specialist staff they are able to recruit.
Going forward I am confident that South Tyneside Hospital has a long term future. I will be fighting to ensure we have specialist services on South Tyneside whilst accepting Sunderland will need to lead on others. I also want to see our hospital designated as a “University Hospital” so that it can act as a centre for training, innovation and best practice not just in the Borough but across our region.
Nye Bevan said that the NHS will survive as long as people are prepared to fight for it. That’s why any campaign which demands more resources for the NHS should have not just my support but every single member of the public.
I will sign petitions till my hand drops off, but the reality is, with the present Tory Government our NHS still won’t get the cash it needs and tough decisions to protect health provision in the Borough will need to be taken.
We need to address the funding crisis and the skills shortage facing our NHS; we also need to bring an end to the marketisation and privatisation of our health services so that the NHS becomes a true public service free at the point for those who need to use it.
The Labour Party is the only party fighting for the NHS and we will continue to work with trade unions such as UNISON on highlighting the impact of the Conservative Government’s policies.