Chairman of the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign group, Roger Nettleship spoke out in response to an “engagement” process launched by City Hospitals Sunderland and South Tyneside Foundation Trust.
The Trusts want to see the merger go ahead as they believe they will be ‘Stronger Together’ and it will help secure the future of healthcare services in both South Tyneside and Sunderland.
But campaigners claim the trusts are not properly consulting staff, citizens, patients, governors and the local authority and that the merger plans will lead to the downgrading and closure of services at South Tyneside Hospital.
Mr Nettleship said: “The timing of the Trusts merger is not a coincidence. It will facilitate the ‘Path to Excellence’, the downgrading and closure of services at South Tyneside Hospital, by removing structures in South Tyneside such as governors and union representation.
The Trusts refer to this as “removing unnecessary organisational boundaries”.
Last month, lawyers acting on behalf of the campaigners were given the green light to pursue a legal challenge through the courts against plans by hospital bosses to relocate vital services - maternity, women’s healthcare, paediatric and stroke services - from South Tyneside to Sunderland.
Peter Sutton, director of Planning and Business Development across the South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group said: “We have been pleased to welcome members of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign Group along to our public engagement events over the summer and have also received formal feedback from Roger which we will consider alongside all other stakeholder responses.
“Through our engagement activities so far we have captured the views of hundreds of people, including staff, patients, the public and key democratic stakeholders and this feedback will be considered as part of our full business case development.
“We have been very clear from the outset that the merger process is about organisational form and not about changing any clinical services for patients.
“The Path to Excellence programme is about the clinical transformation of services for patients which will continue, whether or not a merger takes place, with full public consultation on Phase Two expected in summer 2019.
”We want to be very clear, once again, that both of our hospitals will continue to exist and continue to play key roles in the future.
“It is simply untrue to say that the proposed merger will remove the voice of our governors and staff side representatives in South Tyneside.
“On the contrary, our Council of Governors in each Trust, is currently working with us to draft a new constitution for the proposed new Trust and this will absolutely include equal public representation from both South Tyneside and Sunderland.
“We are also working with Unison to ensure feedback from their survey is included as part of our considerations for the full business case and have been very clear that the merger does not mean South Tyneside staff would automatically become part of CHoICE.”