Councillors ‘insulted’ over response to concerns about moving hospital services from South Tyneside to Sunderland

Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Sunderland Royal Hospital.
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Councillors say they were left feeling ‘insulted’ and ‘disgusted’ by the response to their concerns over proposed health reforms in Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Health bosses say the plans - which involve some services being moved from South Tyneside District Hospital to Sunderland Royal Hospital - are necessary to improve care and cut costs.

A shake-up of services is planned at South Tyneside District Hospital.

A shake-up of services is planned at South Tyneside District Hospital.

But members of the South Tyneside and Sunderland Joint Health Scrutiny Committee are unconvinced by the scheme, which they say could leave patients and health workers struggling to cope.

They are to call on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to rule on the issue.

Committee members say they have also been angered by the response of the Sunderland and South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the bodies behind the plans, to their worries.

South Tyneside councillor Coun Anne Hetherington told yesterday’s meeting: “From memory, I think the words the CCGs used were that ‘lives would be put at risk’ if the committee made the referral, and I felt insulted by that remark.” 

“As well as elected members we are members of the public ourselves and users of these hospitals, and I thought that was disgusting.”

The panel met at Sunderland Civic Centre to finalise its response to the proposals, which will be sent to Jeremy Hunt if the CCGs do not provide a good enough reply.

The committee is also concerned about transport and travel for patients in South Tyneside, and the ability of Sunderland Royal Hospital to cope with extra demand.

At a previous meeting, councillors had also proposed a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the CCGs for ‘allowing services to deteriorate’ and failing patients.

Yesterday, the panel was told by officers it would not be able to do this, but it agreed the sentiment should be reflected in its formal response.

Sunderland’s Coun Norma Wright, who will step down at local elections next month, said: “We have not got the power to put forward a vote of ‘no confidence’, but if we did we would undoubtedly do that.”

Health campaigners have welcomed the decision to take concerns over the proposed health reforms to the government.

The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) has been calling for the Path to Excellence plans to be scrapped over fears of what it calls the ‘downgrading’ of the hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields.

Health bosses say the changes would improve care, but opponents, including the South Tyneside and Sunderland Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, are concerned about the impact of the scheme and the approach of the CCGs leading the plans.

SSTHC chairman Roger Nettleship said: “We attended the April 10 meeting [of the South Tyneside and Sunderland Joint Health Scrutiny Committee] and were very pleased to see that the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee is continuing with its serious deliberations to prepare its final response to the Secretary of State for Health.

“This referral will give an important chance for the people of South Tyneside and Sunderland to take their fight to government to save South Tyneside acute children’s A&E, full maternity services and hospital stroke rehab services.”

Sunderland and South Tyneside CCGs have been contacted for comment.

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporting Service