Health bosses warn lives could be put at risk if changes to hospital services in South Tyneside are delayed

Ken Bremner.
Ken Bremner.

Councillors have been warned they will put people’s lives at “significant risk” if they try to block a change to three key hospital services from going ahead.

The message - delivered by the South Tyneside and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Groups, and both hospital trusts - comes ahead of a meeting of South Tyneside Council’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, tomorrow, where councillors could call on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to examine the plan.

Coun Rob Dix

Coun Rob Dix

The meeting is set to discuss the future changes over the way maternity, stroke and emergency paediatric care is delivered in the borough, following decisions made as a result of Phase One of the Path to Excellence consultation.

According to hospital bosses the changes are needed due to a shortage of medical staff.

By referring the issue to Mr Hunt, health bosses warn in a letter to the committee that they will be putting patients’ lives at risk.

This, they say. is because any intervention by the Health Secretary could hold up the process by between six and nine months.

We feel strongly in the interests of patient safety we are not able to delay changes to these fragile services any longer.

Letter

The letter, signed by South Tyneside CCG boss David Hambleton, Sunderland CCG chief David Gallagher, and Ken Bremner, chief executive of both trusts, stated: “We feel strongly in the interests of patient safety we are not able to delay changes to these fragile services any longer, and these changes must be done in a considered and planned manner with staff, patients and partners.”

It goes on to say: “We feel a delay will be a significant risk in the foundation trusts having to make changes in a crisis situation (like we saw in December for the special care baby unit and subsequent impact that had on South Tyneside maternity services) in order to protect patient safety.

“Again, to be clear what we mean by risks to patient safety, is increasing the potential risk of death, serious harm or a life-long health condition or disability.”

Last year, the special care baby unit was forced to temporarily close due to lack of staff in November, it was followed a week later by the maternity unit. They were re-opened in January.

Health bosses are urging the committee to “consider carefully the serious implications for both patients and staff” when they meet.

Coun Rob Dix, Co-chair of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “The letter from the CCG will be considered by the Committee when it meets to discuss the proposed changes to hospital services on Friday.”