Health bosses have announced another round of discussion sessions with the public and staff over plans to rearrange hospital services in Sunderland and South Tyneside.
NHS bosses are looking to make changes to maternity, stroke care and urgent and emergency services for children and young people under their "Path to Excellence" programme concerning South Tyneside District Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital.
South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust formed a "strategic alliance" in March 2016 known as South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group and are now looking at how to organise services within the new partnership.
But campaigners fighting changes fear the project will see South Tyneside Hospital losing vital services, and could be the thin end of the wedge leading to closures of an increasing number of services in the borough.
However, health chiefs say they are simply looking at how best to provide services within their current budgets - and are canvassing opinions from staff and the public to ensure they do this in the best possible way.
Now they have announced nine additional public consultation events to gather views around the different ways some aspects of hospital services could be arranged.
The public consultation is being led by the commissioners of local health services - NHS South Tyneside CCG and NHS Sunderland CCG – who are responsible for planning and buying healthcare services on behalf of patients.
Dr Matthew Walmsey, a GP and chairman of NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said it was very important to ensure all feedback was captured in a meaningful way.
He said: “We have been very clear at the public events that this is the opportunity for local people to influence these proposals and that no decision has been made. All comments will be included in the independent analysis of consultation feedback and any ideas arising from these will be assessed in line with the key tests around delivering safe care, sustainable, deliverable for the future and affordable. Following this the commissioning groups can actively consider the issues that are important to the public when making the final decisions.”
“We want people to understand that we have clinical issues driving these proposals and any future changes to the way services are organised would only be made in order to improve the quality and safety of those services for the future.
Dr Ian Pattison, GP and chairman of NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, added: “It’s clear that people care passionately about our NHS and want to ensure we have the best care possible and we all have that in common. During this public consultation process, which includes NHS staff, we are discussing these often complex issues together so we can make improvements that will have a real and lasting positive impact on people’s health and quality of life.”
The nine consultation additional events come after an initial nine events, as well as other ways of gathering feedback including a consultation survey and focus groups being carried out by community and voluntary sector groups.
In September they will focus on specific areas of consultation including maternity and women’s healthcare services, children and young people’s healthcare services, specific events for questions and answers and also a dedicated event on travel and transport.
The options under consideration were developed by small design teams made up of representatives from the consultant, senior nurse, midwife and therapy staff groups as well as managers working in the three service areas in both hospitals.
The partnership leaders say these clinical teams have led the development of the proposed options which have passed key tests and are now being consulted upon with the public and the wider NHS workforce.
The nine consultation events already hosted across South Tyneside and Sunderland during the consultation so far, which have seen 329 people attend and more than 1,000 comments received.
There have also been 5,215 visits to the consultation website since the consultation started in June 21, with 414 survey responses received to date.
Visit pathtoexcellence.org.uk for more information and to sign up for updates.