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Opinion Piece - Transparency and Accountability in our local NHS

By Dru Haynes - 15th October 2020

Openness and transparency can help build trust but only if you are genuinely open to hearing what others have to say.

In 2017, Phase 1 of ‘The Path to Excellence’ programme began its public consultation phase ‘to gather public views around the different ways NHS services could be arranged in South Tyneside and Sunderland’.

Focusing on areas of care delivered at South Tyneside District Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital, the consultation covered Stroke and Maternity services, Women’s Healthcare and Urgent and Emergency Paediatrics. The consultations promised ‘a range of ways for local people to get involved [...] and to give their views.

And people did just that! Concerns raised included fears over the additional pressures in demand facing an already struggling Sunderland Royal Hospital, the grave lack of appropriate transport infrastructure to allow patients and visitors to travel between South Tyneside and Sunderland, the additional burden on an overstretched ambulance service of having to manage longer journeys to ensure patient safety in emergency circumstances and the very genuine concern that the loss of services in South Tyneside would lead to the downgrading and eventual complete closure of the hospital.

‘The Path to Excellence programme is being led by a partnership of local NHS organisations including NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust – working together as the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Partnership.’

Although it would appear very few of the clinicians or nursing teams who actually provide our health services!

So, how did The Path to Excellence group respond to the issues raised? Stroke services moved permanently to Sunderland, leaving South Tyneside without provision. Maternity Services, including the Special Care Baby Unit, transferred to Sunderland leaving a midwife-led Birthing Centre at South Tyneside and a part-time Children’s A&E closed between the hours of 10pm and 8am. Inviting feedback is meaningful only if you sincerely listen to new ideas, new perspectives, new approaches, new ways of thinking!

Under the slogan ‘Working together to improve hospital services in South Tyneside and Sunderland’, Phase 2 will assess Emergency Care and Acute Medicine, Emergency Surgery and Planned Care (where patients are referred to hospital by their GP). Anger over the suggested reduction of hospital beds from 300 to 65 and the closure of locally accessible critical care and acute services has been further exacerbated by reports of Health Chiefs meeting with local Councillors from both South Tyneside and Sunderland Councils to discuss taking out loans amounting to £50m (£35m from South Tyneside and £15m from Sunderland) on behalf of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, to pay for the ‘Path To Excellence’ - effectively, paying £35m for a downgrading of their own hospital!

Whilst we’re all acutely aware of the effect of decades of chronic government underfunding on the NHS, this blatant policy of ignoring public opinion and the genuine fear of being left without a hospital in the area, neither the Trust nor the Council is fostering an atmosphere of trust with their ‘cloak and dagger’ approach. In the current climate of the increasing privatisation of our public services, we are left wondering if there are ulterior motives for cultivating this atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust...