Campaigners are gearing up for the next round in their fight against plans which will shape future health care in South Tyneside.
Members of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) claim the first phase of the consultation on clinical reviews at the Harton Lane site in South Shields, is likely to start next month.
The reviews are part of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) by the Government to find £900 million in annual cuts to the social and health care budgets of hospitals in Northumbria, Tyne & Wear and North Durham, by 2021.
A spokesperson for the NHS in South Tyneside has confirmed the first areas of care to be reviewed are stroke, maternity, gynaecology and orthopaedics and a full consultation is expected to commence in the coming weeks.
They say future proposals for significant changes would always require a separate formal consultation under the Health and Social Care Act.
Roger Nettleship, chairman of the SSTHC, is now urging people to speak up.
He said: “Now is the time to defend our hospitals and our NHS.
“Although we don’t know exactly when, once the consultation starts we want everyone in South Tyneside and Sunderland to get involved in giving their views.
“We include clinical staff at the hospitals who have a statutory right to speak out in such consultations to safeguard the future of our NHS.
“We also encourage everyone to attend our SSTHC public meetings during the consultation which we will be holding in South Tyneside and Sunderland once consultation starts.”
Critics – including South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck – say the draft STP, is not transparent enough.
There are already fears for the borough’s services following an alliance with the City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust – which created the South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group – last year.
The SSTHC believes the hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields, could become a ‘cottage hospital’ if acute services are transferred to Wearside.
The NHS in South Tyneside spokesperson said: “NHS organisations in South Tyneside and Sunderland are working together to secure the future of local services through the Path to Excellence programme. The first areas of care to be reviewed will be stroke, maternity, gynaecology and orthopaedics.
“At this stage, we are working to develop a range of different scenarios for the future, and we expect to commence a full consultation on these in the coming weeks. The dates for consultation events have not yet been set, but they do not depend on the STP, which is a wider process across the region.”