HEALTH bosses who are planning to close a health centre in South Tyneside have been labelled “stooges of the government” by a local MP.
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn said those making the decisions over the future of the Jarrow Walk-in Centre are “carrying out cuts without listening to local people”.
Labelling the move “disgraceful”, his outburst came during a parliamentary debate on the NHS.
South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) wants to shut the centre, at The Palmer Community Hospital – which is used by more than 27,000 people a year – and move services to a new “hub” at South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.
The session at the House of Commons also saw Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, reiterate his pledge to keep the centre “open for good” if he becomes the Secretary of State after the general election in May.
Mr Hepburn said: “The closure is opposed by everybody in the area, the council, trade unions, patients and the staff. Local managers are not listening. They are stooges of the government and they are carrying out the cuts without listening to local people.
“They are not incompetent. They know exactly what they are doing. There is a deliberate effort to sabotage the NHS by piling those 27,000 patients a year on to the local doctors.”
Health chiefs say they are trying to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to A&E by creating the new hub.
Dr Matthew Walmsley, a local GP and chairman of NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Local doctors and nurses are responsible for making decisions based on clinical evidence, to get the best possible care for South Tyneside with the resources we have. This is not about cuts or closures. Jarrow walk-in centre is relocating as part of an urgent care hub for the whole borough.
“The advantage of this approach is that every NHS urgent care service will be available behind one front door.
“Local people gave us valuable feedback through public consultation and we are working to tackle the concerns that were raised. We will be taking steps to improve access to GP appointments, extend the advice available through pharmacies, and tackle concerns about transport prior to the changes taking place in the autumn. We have contacted Mr Burnham’s office and would be more than happy to meet him and discuss the changes we are making and how they will have a positive impact in the borough.
“We believe it is vital that decisions about the NHS continue to be made by local clinicians in the best interests of local people.”