It was ‘unlawful’ of NHS bosses not to offer the option of keeping stroke, maternity and pediatric services at South Tyneside Dictrict Hospital, a court heard.
The planned changes, part of the controversial ‘Path to Excellence’ package of reforms, are being contested at the High Court in Leeds.
As part of their legal challenge, lawyers acting for the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign have accused health chiefs of running a flawed consultation.
Vikram Sachdeva QC told the court:“We don’t understand the criteria for the consultation,
“The way the defendant would argue is ‘we’ve identified the problem ourselves, we’ve whittled solutions down from a long list to a short list, now we’re expecting you to be able, on the basis of this information, to be able to comment on options.”
He added: “There is no attempt to consider a case for how services could be left at South Tyneside.
“To exclude ‘do nothing’ from the consultation was unlawful.”
The changes were approved by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for Sunderland and South Tyneside earlier this year on the basis they would improve staffing and recruitment, as well as costs.
However, lawyers for the protestors have claimed the planned ‘downgrading’ would only yield ‘minimal improvement’ to finances and represented a ‘drop in the ocean compared to the financial challenges being faced’.
Mr Sachdeva also argued that reforms planned by the Department of Health and Social Care could resolve recruitment issues.
Addressing His Honour Judge Mark Raeside QC, Mr Sachveda said: “The government fully intends to solves this problem.
“If you rule against us you will be saying ‘I do not believe your moves to solve this problem have any real prospect of success.”
Judge Raeside replied he would hear the case ‘on the facts, no more’.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service