A SENIOR consultant has promised poorly youngsters on Wearside will get top priority under a shake-up of health services.
NHS chiefs are proposing a shake-up of services for sick and injured children in Tyne and Wear.
The plans involve scrapping in-patient services for children at South Tyneside and Gateshead hospitals, instead creating hubs at Sunderland Royal and the Great North Children’s Hospital at the RVI in Newcastle.
This would mean more sick children from outside Sunderland accessing the city’s facilities, but senior paediatric consultant Geoff Lawson has promised his prime responsibility still lay with children in Sunderland.
The clinical director of child health at Sunderland Royal said he made the pledge at the request of his then-boss 15 years ago – and that remained his priority today.
He said: “The first thing he said to me is ‘your first priority is to take care of children in Sunderland.’ I can assure you that this reorganisation will take care of children in Sunderland – and it will also accommodate extra patients from other areas.”
Dr Lawson said the review of acute paediatric services had been ongoing for 15 years, was “nothing new” and was being done to best meet patients’ needs.
He added: “This is not a cost-cutting process driven by finances, despite the austerity measures being taken across the country.”
He was speaking at a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, one of a number of watchdog council groups looking at the plans.
Senior medics at the meeting told councillors they had the power to refer the proposals to Health Secretary Andrew Lansely if they were not happy.
Committee chairman councillor Peter Walker questioned what the moves would mean in terms of losing hospital bed numbers.
Dr David Hambleton, director of commissioning development for NHS South of Tyne and Wear, said South Tyneside and Gateshead hospitals had already been reducing bed numbers as fewer patients needed in-patient care.
Dr Lawson said both he and the new GP commissioning board in Sunderland were keen for more services to be provided by primary care, such as GPs, rather than secondary care in hospitals.
He said this would mean children spending less time on hospital wards, which was better for them and their families.
Dr Hamilton said children would be better off having hospital treatment as out-patients, with a children’s nursing team visiting them at home shortly after.