'˜Downgrading' fears over proposed hospital changes

Proposed changes to how key health services are delivered between hospitals in South Tyneside and Sunderland have been given a thumbs down.
South Tyneside HospitalSouth Tyneside Hospital
South Tyneside Hospital

Under its ‘Path to Excellence’ propsals, NHS chiefs have been looking at how stroke services, maternity services, women’s healthcare and children’s services, including urgent and emergency paediatrics, are provided across the two areas.

Proposals include running inpatient hyperacute and acute stroke care from Sunderland, with hospital-based rehabilitation on a specialist stroke ward, while on South Tyneside, local community stroke teams would operate.

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Other proposed changes included running a 24/7 paediatric emergency department at Sunderland Royal with either a 12-hour paediatric emergency department at South Tyneside or a nurse-led minor injury or illness service, both from 8am-8pm.

The proposals also include having a special care baby unit and consultant-led maternity unit for high risk births at Sunderland with South Tyneside either having a free-standing midwife-led unit for low risk births or solely offering antenatal and post-natal care.

Around 2,500 people took part in a consultation over the future of South Tyneside District Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital - but many used the exercise to express major concerns.

Opponents to the plans in South Tyneside have expressed concerns of patients having to travel to Sunderland for vital treatment and see the proposals as leading to the “downgrading” of South Tyneside District Hospital.

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A document on the feedback received has now been published which acknowledged respondents felt “that the options presented were all very similar, favouring Sunderland over South Tyneside, and failing to meet the needs of residents in the latter area.”

It added: “The overarching view was that the only fair and equitable service provision option available is to leave things as they are and there was strong opposition in the groups to the implementation of all the options. Equally, there is a balancing view that the cuts in NHS funding are the driver for these changes.”

In terms of stroke care, the report said all groups “felt that provision of hyperacute and acute services at Sunderland Royal Hospital and South Tyneside District Hospital were the only equitable options, perhaps better defined as

status quo plus.”

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On children’s and maternity services, it referred to several “clear overall concerns” with the proposals.

It said: “Child birth is seen a not a simple, prescriptive event for anyone and reducing services would be to the detriment of the residents of South Tyneside, introducing a perceived unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

“Transporting a mother in labour independently to Sunderland was felt to have the potential for detrimental effects.”

It continued: “Children get sick 24 hours a day, seven days a week and an appropriate inclusive service needs to reflect that an illness or condition that starts off not being an emergency with a child can quickly become life-threatening.

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“The options were also felt to contribute to the general downgrading of services at South Tyneside, particularly for a group as vulnerable as children and young people.”

Feedback was gathered through public events, from surveys, focus groups and submissions.

A feedback session on the draft report will be held at The Clervaux Exchange in Jarrow where people will be able to hear from the analysts who put together the report.

The session will be held on Monday from 6-8pm.

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Another session will be held at Hope Street Xchange, on Tuesday from 10am to 12 noon.

People can register a place on Eventbrite or the links via www.pathtoexcellence.org.uk.

Meanwhile, the next meeting of the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee will discuss formal feedback from the Path to Excellence when it meets at Sunderland Civic Centre on Tuesday at 2pm.