Vigil marks start of court battle over South Tyneside hospital services moving to Sunderland
Campaigners yesterday staged a final protest ahead of a judicial review over plans to shake-up hospital services in South Tyneside.
Around 60 people, many of whom plan to attend today’s hearing in Leeds, gathered outside South Tyneside District Hospital for what they described as a ‘pre-court vigil’.
They oppose moving accident and emergency, stroke and maternity services to Sunderland – moves already approved by health bosses.
The plans, known under the umbrella of Path to Excellence, were passed in February by the South Tyneside and Sunderland clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
But they have been roundly condemned by opponents, including the borough’s MPs, who claim South Tyneside will be left without easy access to vital services.
They are demanding the process is reversed, and have raised £15,000 to pay solicitors to spearhead the judicial review. They claim a public consultation held by the CCGs was unlawful.
Roger Nettleship, chairman of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC), said: “This is a legal challenge as opposed to a political challenge.
“I’m confident of winning because we have a superb case, but I can’t predict what will happen after that.
“If the judge upholds the view that the consultation was unlawful, then the hospital trust will have to look at it again. But if we do or don’t win our case, the fight goes on.”
Marion Langley, secretary of union Unison’s South Tyneside’s health branch, said: “We hope the judicial review will show that the consultation process was flawed, and must be held again.”
Matt Brown, Director of Operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), described the planned changes as “critical”.
He insisted they were to do with protecting services that are “exceptionally vulnerable” because of a severe shortage of skilled medical and nursing staff.
He added: “These are highly important services for our patients and the CCGs took their decision making extremely seriously, based on clear clinical evidence.
“It was very valuable to have the process we’ve followed and decisions we’ve made around the future of hospital-based stroke, maternity and urgent paediatric care reviewed by a team of experts at the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).
“We are confident in our open and transparent public consultation process which was awarded a certificate of ‘Best Practice’ from the independent Consultation Institute, and as always, we are grateful to all our hard-working NHS staff locally, in particular to those who are working in these vulnerable services while there continues to be uncertain until this legal challenge is resolved.
“We will continue to openly engage with staff, patients, stakeholders and elected members over the coming months as we work together to develop future plans for the best possible local hospital services.
“Together we are all committed to securing the very best care for the people we serve, the residents of South Tyneside and Sunderland.”