Independent review could be called over situation at South Tyneside hospital
A debate – sparked by the temporary suspension of births at the hospital in Harton Lane – will take place in the council chamber of South Shields Town Hall tonight.
Councillors will be asked to decide if an independent review should be commissioned over the arrangements in place for decision making that affects the borough’s health services.
South Tyneside Council leader, Coun Iain Malcolm, – who cannot take part in the debate because he is a non-executive director of the Foundation Trust Board – says: “It is essential that the council has a more direct role in future arrangement to ensure the voices of local people are heard and represented.”
Health chiefs have already faced questions at a local scrutiny panel meeting and a meeting of the Labour councillors over the temporary closure of the special care baby unit.
This was followed by the suspension of births days later. Hospital bosses are blaming a shortage of qualified staff for the move.
In a statement issued before tonight’s meeting, Coun Malcolm said: “Tonight South Tyneside Council will debate the temporary suspension of births at South Tyneside District Hospital.
“Councillors share the understandable concerns of residents who are very anxious about the current situation. While the council does not provide the services at the hospital, it is here to scrutinise the clinical decision and the events leading up to this.
“Health executives have already faced councillors at a local Scrutiny Panel and also at a meeting of the Labour group of councillors – on both occasions they received in-depth challenge and were left in no doubt that we want to see maternity services return to the hospital – when it is safe to do so.
“As a non-executive director of the Foundation Trust Board I will be excluded from this evening’s debate. I am governed by South Tyneside Council’s code of conduct and accordingly register and declare my interest.
“However, as someone who has lived in South Shields all my life, I value our hospital, I have been required to use it, I am proud of the staff who work there and I am determined to do all we can to ensure vital services remain in the borough.
“Earlier this year South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet called for the CCG to retain access to a consultant-led maternity service as part of our official response to the NHS ‘Path to Excellence’ consultation.
“At a minimum everyone expects access to accident and emergency, routine maternity services, end-of- life care, diagnosis, and routine minor operations to be available at their local hospital.
“Labour councillors also worked closely with the health service union, Unison, to develop our response to the CCG ‘Pathway to excellence’ consultation.
“Whilst I recognise that recent decisions have been made by the trust in light of shortages of specialist staff, which is a national problem, the council wants to understand how this situation reached such critical level – leading to the sudden suspension of valuable services for our residents.
“This problem isn’t unique to our area, Foundation Trusts across the country are facing the same pressures, running out of cash, whilst demand for services increases and the Government hasn’t trained enough clinicians. The crisis continues to deepen whilst the Government refuses to take accountability for the impact of its decisions, or to start resourcing services at sustainable levels.
“The funding crisis and the skills shortage facing our NHS needs to be addressed. Going forward we will expect NHS England and the CCG to bring forward solutions to address the long-term viability of these essential services.
“But I want to go further. This evening council will consider a recommendation to commission an independent review of the governance arrangements for decision- making that affects health services in our borough. It is essential that the council has a more direct role in future arrangements to ensure the voices of local people are heard and represented.
“Nationally a number of different approaches are emerging, for example through the devolution of services in Greater Manchester and the move to an ‘Accountable Care Organisation’ in Northumberland. It could also mean that we seek to have a joint set of management arrangements in South Tyneside with accountability to the council for the commissioning of health services by the CCG and ensuring greater input from the public.
“This review will enable us to learn from these new arrangements being developed around the country and agree on the best model for South Tyneside to ensure local control of our destiny in these challenging financial times.
It could also mean more involvement by the public and their elected representatives in future decision-making on health provision across the borough.
“Paramount, however, to all of this is the need to remember that the blame for every cut in our health care service lies firmly with the Conservative government, which is why I will continue to fight for the return of a Labour government pledged to invest in our NHS.”
‘CCG wants services up and running’
Dr David Hambleton, accountable officer for NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group said: “In terms of the difficult decision to close the special care baby unit and subsequently suspend maternity services, clearly urgent action needed to be taken by the hospital trust and while this is not ideal, patient safety must always come first.
“This difficult decision was taken by the South Tyneside Foundation Trust Board – which includes Coun Malcolm as a non-executive director – following clear, clinical advice from regional experts.
“I am very clear indeed that the CCG wants these services up and running again as soon as possible, and the trust is working hard to make sure this will happen as soon as it is safe to do so.
“In terms of decisions about local health services that are taken by the clinical commissioning group, like all CCGs, we operate under the statutes set out in the Health and Social care Act (2012) with a clear mandate to ensure the best possible health services are in place for local people, that are safe, effective and cost within the allocation we receive for health services locally.
“The CCG works closely with South Tyneside Council’s Health and Well Being Board, chaired by Coun Malcolm, which brings key leaders from the local health and care system to work together to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of South Tyneside – and the council’s health scrutiny committee, which has a remit to scrutinise NHS plans and decisions.
“Where other parts of the country have chosen to work differently in terms of their decision-making arrangements, these have all been within the existing statutory responsibilities of partners such as CCGs and based on strong relationships between all parties.”