'Do the right thing' - Protestors and South Shields MP call on councillors to refuse loan for South Tyneside Hospital 'downgrade'
Campaigners took to the town hall steps on July 18 to protest against a potential money-borrowing deal to fund hospital service changes.
NHS bosses have held informal discussions with South Tyneside Council to stump up cash needed for the second phase of the Path to Excellence.
Residents have already seen some stroke paediatric and maternity services moved to Sunderland under the first phase of the scheme.
The next phase covers changes to emergency care, surgery, diagnostics and outpatient services.
Earlier this month, Ken Bremner, chief executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said if NHS funding is not forthcoming local councils could offer support to the scheme.
This includes councils using borrowing powers to take out loans from the Public Works Loan Board -which facilitates investment in the public sector by providing low cost loans.
Critics have said the loan could be up to £50million – split between £35million for South Tyneside Council and £15million for Sunderland City Council- although final figures have not been confirmed.
Petitions had thousands of signatures
Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) submitted two petitions with a combined total of nearly 2,000 signatures.
The petitions opposed any council financing for the Path To Excellence scheme which, campaigners claimed, would “downgrade” South Tyneside Hospital services further.
Ahead of the meeting, the chairman of the SSTHC, Roger Nettleship, addressed campaigners outside South Shields Town Hall.
“The health bosses might get a cheap loan off the council if they arrange it but we think that the main reason that they’re doing it is because they want the council to buy-in to this second phase without knowing what it’s going to be,” he said.
“If they buy into it, then they’re most likely to not oppose the services that will be lost. The scrutiny committee did a brilliant job to oppose the phase one when they referred it to the secretary of state.
“There won’t be that same impetus to do that if they’re funding phase two. That’s the main reason for us to do this emergency motion.”
This view was shared by secretary of Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) Sunderland and District Branch, Laura Murrell, who attended the protest.
She added: “Local councils have a duty to scrutinise the actions of the trust and CCG that commissions local health services.
“In Sunderland, they were effective in amending and monitoring the changes the CCG wanted to make to Urgent Care Services.
“How will the council do an effective job if they become partners with the trust in facilitating cuts to services?
“This is not about improving services, SSTHC and KONP believe it is an attempt to embroil the council in the plans to downgrade hospital services and to try and split our council representatives from the people they represent.”
‘Do we really want to pro-actively facilitate the downgrading of our own hospital services?’
A statement from South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck was also read out at the rally.
The MP – who is a vocal supporter of SSTHC – has previously criticised the Path to Excellence scheme for “downgrading” services at South Tyneside District Hospital.
Any loan granted by the council, she added, would become the “responsibility of South Tyneside taxpayers.”
“Do we really want to pro-actively facilitate the downgrading of our own hospital services,” she said.
“I certainly do not in any way and I urge our councillors to do the right thing with only the interests of the people of South Tyneside at the forefront of their minds by voting against this loan.
“Because if the loan doesn’t go ahead the Path to Excellence is dead, the government won’t pay for it.
“To remove our services to another local authority area and ignore the dangers that poses to families and individuals is in no way acceptable.
“To shift the focus to the bricks and mortar of the hospital site without any reference to the loss of services de-humanises this critical issue and only gives half of the picture.”
Do we really want to pro-actively facilitate the downgrading of our own hospital services
A spokesman said that any loan request – if received – would be used exclusively to improve the South Tyneside District Hospital site.
He added: “The loan would be at no cost to the council or the council tax payers of South Tyneside, it is re-paid in full and with interest by the Foundation Trust.”
Following the protest, Ken Bremner, Chief Executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, also released a statement.
He said: “Informal discussions with local authority partners are at a very early stage and we continue to explore all opportunities that may enable us to invest into new and improved facilities on the South Tyneside District Hospital site.
“Our ambition is to create truly outstanding future hospital services and by working in partnership we have the potential to deliver major investment into local services. We are positive and optimistic about the bright and vibrant future for both of our hospitals.
“By investing in our facilities we want to make them the very best places to work, the very best places to receive top quality care and treatment and attract staff who want to come and live and work here.
“This is all about making things better for patients, and enhancing, not downgrading, the services we offer.”
Labour councillor, John McCabe, presented the petitions at full council on behalf of the hospital campaign.
However council procedure dictated no debate on the petitions – which will now be passed to the relevant council officers for consideration.