Sunderland and South Tyneside health chiefs defend Path to Excellence hospital plans as they are referred to Government

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Health bosses have defended controversial hospital reforms following criticism from councillors.

The Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for Sunderland and South Tyneside hit back after their Path to Excellence plans for how stroke, children’s and maternity care are provided at Sunderland Royal and South Tyneside District hospitals were referred to the government.

The South Tyneside and Sunderland Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee voted this week (Monday, April 30) to take their concerns directly to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Matt Brown, NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, director of operations said: “We fully believe that these changes are absolutely in the best interests of local health services, however we recognise the right of the joint health overview and scrutiny committee to refer these decisions to the secretary of state for health.

“We’ve been clear from the start that these changes have been about taking steps to protect services that are vulnerable because of a severe shortage of skilled medical and nursing staff.”

Councillors have repeatedly raised concerns over the safety of sick children, whether Sunderland Royal Hospital could cope with the increase in patients, the long-term viability of South Tyneside District Hospital and patient transport.

If approved, the Path to Excellence plans could see a range of stroke, children’s and maternity care services moved to Sunderland.

This would include:

Emergency paediatric care phased out at South Tyneside in favour of a ‘nurse-led paediatric minor injury or illness service’ available 8am-8pm. A 24-hour emergency service would be available at Sunderland.

A midwife-led delivery service at South Tyneside for ‘low risk births’ with a consultant-led maternity unit at Sunderland.

A single community midwife team for Sunderland and South Tyneside for antenatal and postnatal care.

All inpatient stroke services for Sunderland and South Tyneside to be based at Sunderland Royal Hospital

The committee had been particularly critical about the CCGs’ handling of its concerns, something the CCGs apologised for in its written response to the panel.

However, while they said they were ‘disappointed’ to have lost the support of councillors, the health chiefs also said they stood by their original points.

Mr Brown added: “We are confident that our consultation process was open and transparent, and the decisions about each of the services made for the right reasons based on clear clinical evidence.

“We look forward to an early response and resolution to the referral, we know that staff in these services have said they would like to get on with the changes and end the uncertainty.

“It’s important now that we can prepare to make these much needed changes to ensure that are services are fit for the future and offer the best care possible care for the local people we serve.”

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service