Campaign to Save South Tyneside Hospital Advances its Work
The downgrading of South Tyneside Hospital was announced as part of an “alliance” between South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (STFT) and City Hospitals Sunderland (CHS). If this downgrading were to go ahead, it would result in the loss of acute services for South Tyneside and also for Sunderland whose access to acute services would also be under pressure by the closure of those services in South Tyneside.
The “alliance” plans to move all acute services from South Tyneside to Sunderland, which would make South Tyneside Hospital A&E unsustainable. The immediate threat is the loss of acute stroke services and maternity in South Tyneside. The NHS England plan is to reduce more than 10 A&Es in the north east of England down to four or five. Its result would be to leave South Tyneside with essentially a rehabilitation hospital, while anyone needing acute health care would have to travel to Sunderland or Newcastle.
These downgrading plans have a familiar ring to them. The fight to save hospitals which serve the needs of local people has up and down the country begun with such cuts, often under the spurious grounds of financial difficulties or sustainability, or even the pursuit of excellence in specialist hospitals. The rate at which such plans are being pushed through has escalated with NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, and its associated division of England into 44 STP (Sustainability and Transformation Plan) “footprints”.
The downgrading of South Tyneside Hospital is consistent with the direction in which the government is taking the NHS. It is deliberately reducing NHS funding both for front-line health services and other human resource needs. This process is wrecking the NHS by fragmenting it into purchasers and providers, closing acute hospitals and A&E departments. It is facilitating the takeover of the most profitable services by private health companies. This continued direction is reflected in the alliance between STFT and CHS with the aim of closing acute services at South Tyneside Hospital.
Aims and Activities of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign
The SSTHC is acting to unite people in action in the campaign irrespective of political opinion. Its stand is to safeguard the future of South Tyneside Hospital and its acute and emergency services. The Campaign upholds that access to health care is a right of all in a modern society, and it demands that this right must be guaranteed.
- We demand that the government, NHS England, South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group and South Tyneside Health & Well-being Board stop any plans to close acute services at South Tyneside District Hospital and to safeguard its A&E service.
- We demand the restoration of the duty of government to provide a comprehensive health service across England to all communities, ensuring the resources that are required and the training of doctors and consultants required for all acute and community services.
- We demand the reverse of 25 years of marketisation in the NHS and the abolishment of the purchaser/provider split, and an end to contracting, and to establish public bodies and public services accountable to local communities.
Public Meeting Calls to Build the Campaign so that Acute and Emergency Services Remain at South Tyneside Hospital
MP Emma Lewell-Buck organised a meeting in South Shields on August 15 with the support of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign and Unison’s Public Service Alliance. Nearly 200 people including clinicians, staff from the hospital, people from South Tyneside and some residents of Sunderland attended the meeting in the Brinkburn Community Centre in South Shields, which was characterised by the enthusiastic support to build the campaign so that acute and emergency services remain at South Tyneside Hospital.
Opening the meeting Emma Lewell-Buck said, “We all know that the government is decimating our NHS. We all know about Jeremy Hunt’s attack on the work force, the junior doctors and the nurses, but what many people don’t know is about the immense pressures that they are putting on local hospitals right up and down the country.” She said, “They are reducing the workforce, increasing the role of the private sector and starving the NHS of the funding forcing areas to come up with plans of how they can re-configure their hospitals and their local health services. One part of that plan is the reduction in the north east of accident and emergency provision.” She continued, “Clinical reviews have commenced on a number of clinical services based at our hospital which from downgrading, or delivered from elsewhere, will reduce the need for us to have an accident and Emergency in the current form.”
The MP reported that she had spoken to staff, clinicians, and trade unions and that “all the signs were pointing to a downgrading of services for South Tyneside, inclusive of A&E provision to Sunderland”. She said that Sunderland are expanding these services “against a far more challenging financial situation than our hospital is in”. Emma pointed out that these moves “do not appear to be based on any evidence or strategic planning to meet the health needs of our borough. They are being rushed through at pace with scant regards for the health needs of our local population. There is a blatant lack of transparency and accountability. All minutes since the alliance and in spite of repeated requests have not been made available to the public and I have been given no clear blueprint of what it is that this hospital is actually trying to achieve.” She concluded that she knew that the people of South Tyneside “are not going to put up with this. Tonight is about sharing information and planning our next steps together.”
Unison area organiser and the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign organiser Gemma Taylor spoke, outlining the origins of the SSTHC coming out of the concern of local people and the Public Service Alliance of local trade unions. She said, “What gave rise to our concerns was that this alliance was formed without any public consultation and the announcement that the South Tyneside Foundation Trust would deliver more of the rehabilitation, screening and diagnostics and that City Hospitals Sunderland would deliver more of the acute and emergency services. We all know that if a hospital does not have acute services, it will make the A&E unviable.” She said that the campaign is working very closely with the two local MPs to protect acute and emergency services. Gemma concluded by asking the floor to stand united with the campaign and to get involved.
Roger Nettleship, Chair of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, also spoke of how the campaign had grown from the fight to save Jarrow Walk-In Centre. Roger said that the government is orchestrating the downgrading of the South Tyneside Hospital through its Five Year Forward View. He said, “What struck us about this is that it is a vicious austerity campaign to destroy as much as possible of the publicly provided and publicly funded NHS in five years and replace it with a privately provided and funded health system using the US model of private health care. We have to block this move and dismantle many of the mechanisms put in place by this and previous governments such as the market in health between providers and commissioners and the way the NHS is deliberately underfunded.”
Roger Nettleship said that “one vital question that is very important to ask is are there any public authorities nationally, or locally, accountable to the people that are standing up for the NHS. Instead what we have is this question being reduced to competing Trusts and Chief Executives in the context of Trusts being deliberately under resourced in funds and in medical staff where the government can force mergers, partnerships with the private sector and close and wreck our acute hospitals and emergency services.”
Roger said that this is no way to run a health service. “We formed the campaign to become a social movement in South Tyneside to defend our health service and become that public authority.” He said this was “bringing people together regardless of political opinion, party or organisation, or none, as well as our elected representatives”. Roger called on people to join the Campaign and shape it together. He said, “We know not everyone can come to a two-weekly meeting, but it is important to act in an organised way and send a delegate from your group or organisations then everyone come to those activities they can get to. We know people in the hospital are taking a stand. Even many of the clinicians and governors are opposing this direction for our NHS and for our hospital.” He pointed out, “Access to health care is a right of all in a modern society and we demand that it must be guaranteed and no hospital should be placed in deficit.” Roger Nettleship concluded by saying, “Let us plan this campaign even better. So, they haven’t seen anything yet. Let’s plan for the biggest demonstration that South Tyneside has ever seen and get everyone out!”
During the hour and half discussion that followed with a roving mike, speaker after speak gave dozens of contributions to the discussion on the vital importance of the campaign to save the acute and emergency services at the hospitals as well as speakers who spoke on how this would affect services in Sunderland and the need for a campaign there. South Tyneside District Hospital consultant surgeon Kamil Wynne told the meeting that most clinicians at the hospital oppose any possible moving of services to the Royal. He said, “The majority of us do not think that this has been thought out properly.”
The meeting concluded with Emma Lewell-Buck thanking everybody for coming along and thanking all of the people who made such powerful contributions. She said this was the start of the campaign. Many unions and parties were on board and the message which is loud and clear is: “Hands off our hospital and don’t ever underestimate the people in South Tyneside!”
(Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign)