Brains behind the controversial ‘Path to Excellence’ health reforms for Sunderland and South Tyneside have previously admitted the changes could mean extra travel for some families who would usually be treated at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
But they have also claimed the trade off could mean doctors and treatment teams getting more care done faster, especially at the busiest times of year.
“The working ideas at this point relate to emergency care taking place at Sunderland and South Tyneside becoming a centre of excellence for planned care,” said Matt Brown, executive director of operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
“The reason for splitting out emergency planned care is because it creates so much inefficiency in our ability to deliver services.
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“Each winter, surgical beds are converted to medical beds to deal with people with respiratory issues and [other conditions, which] then means we have to reduce the level of planned care.
“By splitting them out, you create a much more efficient stream and give us much more chance of catching up with the significant waiting times that are building up.”
Mr Brown was speaking at a meeting of the CCG’s governing body on March 25, which was held by videolink and broadcast via Facebook.
The first phase of the Path to Excellence programme covered stroke, maternity, gynaecology and paediatric services, with a host of changes implemented in 2019.
Work on phase two, covering planned and emergency care, as well as diagnostics, had to be halted in 2020, following the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
As a result, bosses have now decided to focus on the surgical side of the planned changes, with medical care due to be examined later.
And after assessing the impact of the pandemic, Brown is convinced the need for an overhaul is bigger than ever to address staff shortages, demand and tight budgets.
A business case setting out the proposed reforms is expected to be ready by the summer, with a public consultation on the plans in the autumn, ahead of a final decision in spring 2022.