More than 30 different options to reform emergency care in South Tyneside and Sunderland are being considered.
‘Nothing is off the table’, according to health chiefs, who have said they are considering everything from shutting down departments to building a whole new hospital.
But they also admitted that a less radical solution is likely to be found as they continue their public engagement exercise on the second phase of the controversial Path to Excellence scheme.
Matt Brown, director of operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), gave an update on the project at South Tyneside’s Riverside Community Area Forum meeting.
He said: “We’re working up a range of different solutions, up to 31 different options, from having no emergency care in south Tyneside or Sunderland to having a hospital between the two hospitals, and everything in between.
“In reality, neither of those options are very likely.
“In looking at 31 potential solutions, nothing is on the table, nothing is off the table.”
However, the breadth of suggestions being considered was criticised by councillors.
Coun Angela Hamilton called the prospect of emergency care moving out of the borough ‘unacceptable’.
Further details of the proposals being considered are not expected to be made public until early next year, prompting Coun Audrey McMillan to question whether the process was ‘fair and open’.
In the event of health chiefs deciding to more services from South Tyneside to Sunderland, councillors said they were still not satisfied Sunderland Royal Hospital would be able to cope with extra patients.
Coun Anne Hetherington said: “You’re going to be sending thousands more people a year to Sunderland. We never got a satisfactory answer about the ability of Sunderland to cope with these things.”
The Path to Excellence scheme is being run by the South Tyneside and Sunderland CCGs to improve healthcare in the area.
The first phase, covering stroke, maternity and pediatric care, is being implemented, while a public engagement exercise is now starting on the second, covering emergency care and acute medicine, emergency surgery and planned care
Throughout the process, concerns have been raised about the future of South Tyneside District Hospital as services are centralised in Sunderland.
Health bosses at South Tyneside and Sunderland CCGs, which are running the scheme, have insisted the second phase could seen aspects of care moved to South Tyneside.
Earlier this year, a government review requested by a joint committee of Sunderland and South Tyneside councillors backed the first phase.
A separate judicial review brought by the campaign group Save South Tyneside Hospital is not expected to be completed until December.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service