South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck is today calling for an independent review into plans to change services at South Tyneside District Hospital.
In a Parliamentary debate tonight, the town’s Labour MP is also due to air her views and concerns over the temporary closure of the maternity and special care baby units at the hospital.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said this evening’s debate was an opportunity to hold the Government to account over what is happening at the hospital and get some answers.
The MP has been supporting the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign, set up in response to the ‘Path to Excellence’ proposals put forward by NHS chiefs which could see changes to key services – including stroke treatment and both women’s and children’s healthcare.
Campaigners fear this could lead to a downgrading of acute services at the hospital, in Harton Lane, South Shields, and put extra strain on staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital, to which services could be transferred.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “It has become very clear that there is something just not right with the entire situation here in South Tyneside.
“An urgent review is needed into all organisations involved in this process and at all levels.
“I will be holding the Government to account for their forced dismantling of our NHS, as well as our own local NHS leaders and decision-making bodies for the flawed and inadequate consultation process that people in South Shields have been subjected to.
“Since plans first surfaced of an ‘alliance’ between South Tyneside Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital, I have voiced concerns that this merger was a precursor to a takeover and expressed grave worries that South Tyneside Hospital would be downgraded.”
Mrs Lewell-Buck said that one of the key issues is the closure of the special care baby unit at the hospital.
This was announced on Thursday, November 30, and was followed within days by an announcement that all births at the hospital were being suspended temporarily.
Health chiefs say a shortage of trained staff in the special care baby unit is the reason for the action.
Mrs Lewell-Buck claims there are disparities between what the Trust have been saying and what staff believe.
She said: “The closures due to ‘staffing issues’ have seen us reach the stage where no more babies are being born in South Tyneside.
“Yet the maternity unit has the full complement of staff present, as it has done historically, when it was fully operational.”
Trust boss hits back at MP’s views on baby unit closure
Dr Shahid Wahid, medical director at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Prior to taking this vital safety decision to temporarily suspend births, we sought several independent views from the Northern Neonatal Network, the Northern Maternity Network and the Heads of Midwifery Network, as well as partners including NHS England, NHS Improvement, the Care Quality Commission and our commissioners.
“This was not a decision taken lightly or in isolation by the Trust and there was a unanimous clinical view across the region that the safest option for South Tyneside mums and babies was to temporarily suspend births at the hospital. Patient safety must always come first and as a consequence of the critical staffing challenges we face in our special care baby unit, we simply were not willing to accept the level of clinical risk for babies to be born without any specialist neonatal care readily available in South Tyneside to support resuscitation and stabilisation.
“Our priority now is working with our teams to look at all possible solutions put forward by our staff to try and resolve the severe staffing challenges we face in our special care baby unit.
“We are absolutely clear, however, that any rota suggestions put forward must be safe and sustainable so that we do not end up in a similar crisis situation in the immediate weeks ahead.
“It is also vital that we can clearly demonstrate, to our Trust Board and our independent regulators, that we are able to consistently meet nationally required safe staffing standards for neonatal care.”