Keeping health services in South Tyneside the same '˜not viable', court told

People were not asked to consider whether stroke, maternity and pediatric care should stay in South Tyneside because it was not considered a '˜viable' option, a court heard.

Health chiefs for the borough are appearing at the High Court in Leeds for a judicial review to answer a legal challenge over their handling of the decision-making process surrounding the service shake up at South Tyneside District Hospital.

Lawyers acting for the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign accused the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) of consulting in a way that was ‘fundamentally unfair’, but also ‘unlawful’.

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Today, the CCGs for Sunderland and South Tyneside hit back, claiming a ‘do nothing’ option to stop services moving to Sunderland would have been inappropriate - and that people had the chance to raise the ‘status quo’ question at a series of public meetings

Eleanor Grey QC said: “There was extensive information presented to the public about why things cannot stay as they are.

She said a ‘do nothing’ option was discounted during the pre-consultation phase as clinical evidence suggested it would not lead to improvements.

She argued that the public had also been free to put forward any views or alternative proposals they wanted to suggest, both during the pre-consultation period and the main consultation.

A series of services could be moved from South Tyneside District Hospital to Sunderland Royal Hospital.A series of services could be moved from South Tyneside District Hospital to Sunderland Royal Hospital.
A series of services could be moved from South Tyneside District Hospital to Sunderland Royal Hospital.
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She said: “A lot of information was put in the public domain. There’s nothing secretive, there was the option to question appropriately.

“There is a clear invitation to comment and that is put in the broadest of terms – not just ‘we want you to vote on options one, two or three.”

This point was accepted by Judge Mark Raeside.

A key point of the campaigners’ case has rested on how much information on the possibility of retaining services in South Tyneside was made public, and whether the public was given the opportunity to support this option.

Sunderland Royal Hospital.Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Sunderland Royal Hospital.

The contested changes are part of the controversial ‘Path to Excellence’ package of reforms for Sunderland and South Tyneside.

The plans included:

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* Moving acute stroke care from South Tyneside Hospital to Sunderland Royal Hospital.

* Changes to management of maternity care, with a consultant-led unit in Sunderland and a midwife-led department in South Tyneside.

* An overhaul of pediatric care, leading to daytime emergency provision in South Tyneside and 24/7 provision in Sunderland.

Ms Grey added: “Just flicking through the consultation information and looking at the headings and my lord will have already seen various themes.

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“The gaps in service, ensuring quality of care problems with CQC inspections, the need to move towards seven-day working, problems with access targets, local sustainability.”

Ms Grey is expected to finish presenting her defence later today

The campaigners barrister, Vikram Sachdeva QC, presented his case yesterday and was due to offer a reply to the defence later today.

The Judge is expected to deliver a verdict either tomorrow or Friday.

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service