South Tyneside and Sunderland hospital shake-up plan ‘fundamentally unfair’

The process which paved the way for an overhaul of maternity, children’s and stroke care services in South Tyneside and Sunderland was ‘fundamentally unfair’, a court has heard.

The claim was made during opening arguments today in the legal challenge brought by campaigners fighting the changes.

Protestors against the South Tyneside hospital services shake-up at the High Court in Leeds today.

Protestors against the South Tyneside hospital services shake-up at the High Court in Leeds today.

Appearing at the High Court in Leeds, lawyers acting for the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign group claimed a decision on the clinical commissioning groups’ ‘Path to Excellence’ plans had been made before the public was given a chance to comment.

Related: Vigil marks start of court battle over South Tyneside hospital services moving to Sunderland

Vikram Sachdeva QC, acting for the protestors, said this meant the prospect of keeping the services on South Tyneside wasn’t even presented as an option.

He told the court: “There was no attempt to engage the consultee. It was presented as a fait accompli, and retention of services at South Tyneside is simply off the table.

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.

“That is fundamentally unfair when it is such an important issue.”

The shake-up of services in the area was approved by the Sunderland and South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in February.

Over the summer it survived an independent review ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DoHSC), before being brought to the High Court for a judicial review of the consultation process for the proposals.

The plans include:

* Moving acute stroke care from South Tyneside District 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 paediatric care, leading to daytime emergency provision in South Tyneside and 24/7 provision in Sunderland.

Mr Sachdeva claimed the CCGs had been ‘completely fixed’ on shifting the services out of the borough.

This, he said, was because bosses had decided sustainable staffing was ‘simply impossible’.

This, he argued, was a public consultation being opened without an open mind.

While he conceded the DoHSC review had backed the plans, he noted a report had also raised concerns about the consultation process.

He added: “Retaining the status quo was not something that was consulted on.

“It was not one of the options put forward, and that is the odd thing about the consultation.

“In many other consultation cases we will see a variety of options put forward and there might be a preferred option put forward.

“If one can see a range of reasonable positions put forward to the public, one can see that as a fair consultation.

“But here what we have is a process by which that option of retaining services simply wasn’t put forward as an option because it was already rejected.”

Mr Sachdeva is due to conclude his opening arguments today.

Tomorrow, Eleanor Grey QC, acting for the Sunderland and South Tyneside CCGs, is due to outline defence arguments.

His Honour Judge Mark Raeside QC is due to deliver a verdict on Thursday.

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service