Last Wednesday, I proudly welcomed nearly 40 representatives from the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) to Westminster.
Their visit came at a crucial time, as the group has filed for judicial review against the first phase of plans that see the downgrading of our hospital.
In addition, the trusts of both South Tyneside and Sunderland Hospitals have now announced their intention to merge, despite their previous protestations that their working together was an ‘alliance’ not a merger.
From the outset I and others were derided when we referred to the ‘alliance’ as a merger,.
Now I believe it is not a merger but a takeover of South Tyneside services by Sunderland.
I want to assure my constituents that I do not believe this is something we just need to accept.
Research from the Kings Fund, an English health charity, looked at the 20 existing mergers involving NHS trusts and found that, in most cases, mergers did not yield the results they promised.
In fact, they found that mergers are costly, rarely address the problems faced, and rarely lead to sustainable organisations.
In February this year, after a consultation process I think was flawed and pre-determined from the outset, the CCG decided to go ahead and close inpatient stroke beds at South Tyneside Hospital for good and to move key children’s emergency and maternity services to Sunderland.
This summer, the next phase of the CCG’s proposals go out to consultation. This will be in relation to acute medicine and emergency care, emergency surgery and planned care, planned surgery and outpatient care.
As yet, we do not know what the consultation options will be.
I have been clear from the outset that unless I am convinced the options will result in safe, equitable health care for my constituents, then I will not support them.
I was also pleased to arrange for the SSTHC visitors to attend Prime Minister’s Question Time, where I asked Theresa May about cuts to our local hospital.
Unfortunately the answer left much to be desired. She refused to take any responsibility for the crisis in our NHS and the closure of key local services.
She is the Prime Minister - she needs to take responsibility for the fragmentation, privatisation, increased competition, outsourcing and forced downgrading and closure of key hospital services across England.
It is clear that in the absence of a Government and Prime Minister who care about the future of our NHS, that it is campaign groups and the public who, pending the next Labour Government, will save it.
That is why I was proud to host the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaigners in taking their fight to Parliament.
And I remain committed to fighting relentlessly for our hospital because health care is a right and never should be the preserve of the privileged few.