Councillors ‘will not be bullied’ by health bosses over future of South Tyneside and Sunderland hospitals

Coun Rob Dix
Coun Rob Dix

Councillors have said they will stand tough against decisions they feel will harm the interests of the people they represent.

Members of South Tyneside Council and Sunderland City Council’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee, yesterday voted unanimously to refer the decisions made by South Tyneside and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Groups over changes to three key hospital services to Jeremy Hunt.

David Hambleton

David Hambleton

Sunderland Coun Norma Wright - co-chair of the group with South Tyneside Councillor Rob Dix - were greeted by a round of applause when they announced the decision.

The committee based its decision on the grounds Phase One of the Path to Excellence consultation was inadequate and that the proposals are “not in the interests of the health services in the area.”

Objectors to the plans say it amounts to a downgrading of services at South Tyneside District Hospital, with fears Sunderland Royal Hospital will struggle to cope with the extra demand as a result.

Coun Anne Hetherington also proposed a vote of no confidence in the CCGs to be looked at a future meeting.

The meeting heard a letter had been sent to the committee ahead of its meeting by health chiefs warning any delays to changes could put “lives at risk.”

Coun Dix said: “Let’s make this clear, this is the only the first trench of changes, there are more to come.

“This committee will not be bullied into any action the CCG want us to follow. We will make our own decisions and will ask questions that they may feel uncomfortable with but that’s the point of a scrutiny.”

Read more: Health campaigners celebrate decision of tough-talking councillors over Sunderland and South Tyneside hospitals

Dr David Hambleton, chief executive officer at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are really disappointed that local politicians feel that they cannot support these important changes to vulnerable services.

“We’ve been very clear from the start that these changes have been about taking steps to protect services that are vulnerable because of a severe shortage of skilled medical staff.

“We are at a loss to understand why it is that councillors feel that delaying these changes do not present a real risk to patient safety.”

He added: “This referral to the secretary of state for health will increase the risk that the NHS has to change services in a crisis situation, which is not good for staff or patients.

“We are confident that our consultation process was open and transparent, and the decisions about each of the services done for the right reasons based on evidence and we know that staff in these services have said they would like to get on with the changes and end uncertainty.”