Health chiefs are under fire for moving a vital hospital service out of South Tyneside.
Stroke care for people in South Tyneside and Sunderland is to be centralised at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Bosses say the move is a temporary one aimed at strengthening the service and ensuring the best possible patient outcomes.
Opponents claim the move will eventually see the service permanently removed from South Tyneside District Hospital - as they predicted when South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust entered into an ‘alliance’ earlier this year
Janet Greig, regional organiser for Unison, said: “The staff were told that this was a temporary move but that the service was closing with immediate effect.
“That’s what the staff have reported to us.
“We’re concerned because there has been no consultation with our members around this move. They are extremely concerned that the unit will not come back and that this will become a permanent move.”
She added: “We’re also concerned about patients and residents of South Tyneside because they haven’t been consulted over the move either. “There was a promise that residents of South Tyneside would always be consulted on issues that would affect them and this hasn’t been done.
“A major concern that Unison and our members has is that the transport links to Sunderland aren’t the best, and depending on where you live in South Tyneside, you could have a minimum of two buses to get to Sunderland Royal.
“If someone has had a stroke it could be difficult for them to make this journey.”
Shirley Ford, North East co-ordinator for the Green Party, said she was “frankly appalled” at the decision.
She said she feared that the move would lead to more acute services being lost at the hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields.
Ms Ford, a member of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, said: “We have been constantly told ‘don’t worry, the A&E is not under threat, it’s not going to close’
“When we organised a protest march from South Tyneside Hospital to Sunderland Hospital in April we had representatives of other political parties - including serving councillors - saying ‘you’re just scare-mongering, for political purposes’.
“Now the first major acute service is to close and our point all the way along has been that they will close one acute service after another until they can say the A&E ‘isn’t safe and needs to close due to vulnerability.”
She added: “We are appalled that this decision has been made without the ‘full and independently organised’ consultation that has been promised repeatedly by the CCG, the Hospital Trust, and the councillors on the Health & Wellbeing Board.”
Ms Ford also says that a statement released by the hospital “does not reassure” that this is a temporary move.
Dr Shaz Wahid, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s medical director, said: “We must stress that there is no immediate concern regarding patient safety at South Tyneside. However, the stroke service is vulnerable going forward due to national NHS recruitment challenges, which include a shortage of stroke physicians.
“In response to this, clinical leaders and executive directors at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust have agreed to a temporary solution of centralising all acute stroke care in Sunderland as soon as arrangements can be made.”
Ms Ford added: “The Green Party is campaigning against £22billion of cuts, demanded over the next five years to be scrapped so that our NHS has the funds it needs to deliver proper health services in every local area.
“It is simply not acceptable for the Government to engineer the closure of the vast majority of current A&Es and cloak this in secrecy, with the so-called ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ being drawn up behind closed doors.”