Overhaul of NHS in South Tyneside delayed by pandemic, as leaders take stock of 'dramatic changes'

Planned overhauls of NHS care in South Tyneside could be further delayed while bosses figure out the wider impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
South Tyneside District Hospital, Harton LaneSouth Tyneside District Hospital, Harton Lane
South Tyneside District Hospital, Harton Lane

The Path to Excellence programme to improve health services in the borough, Sunderland and parts of County Durham has previously covered areas including stroke, pediatrics and maternity care.

Attention had been due to turn to pre-planned and emergency procedures, before the COVID-19 outbreak forced bosses to hit the brakes.

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And they have now raised the prospect of even more research being needed to account for changing lifestyles and expectations brought about by months of lockdown and other restrictions.

“The question is about understanding the very dramatic changes in patient behaviour around transport since COVID [started],” said Matt Brown, director of operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

“More remote working, the reduction in the numbers using public transport – all those things are really important for us to factor in.

“The vast majority of travel time for patients is actually for outpatient appointments, rather than for when they become inpatients, so we have tried to bring those back to South Tyneside wherever we possibly can, or made them remote where it’s possible to do so.”

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Brown was speaking at a meeting of the CCG’s governing body, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

This demanded to know what the CCG is doing to make sure patients are able to reach appointments easily by public transport.

This was a key concern raised over plans implemented in the first phase of the Path to Excellence programme, such as the relocation of stroke services to Sunderland.

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Brown insisted work was continuing to ‘reduce the overall travel burden’.

He also conceded NHS bosses may struggle to ‘directly influence’ organisations such as Metro operator Nexus or bus companies, which are facing their own struggles to adapt to the pandemic.

However he suggested a more detailed report on the issue may be prepared when the coronavirus vaccination programme is more advanced.

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