Friday 21st July 2017

Save Our Hospital Services
Public Meeting

Members of the public gathered at Brinkburn Community Centre

On Friday July 21st 2017 the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign held an important public meeting at Brinkburn Community Centre. Over 160 people consisting of both staff and the general public came together to discuss the current first phase consultation that has been launched by the South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to downgrade 24-hour children's and young persons A&E, take away consultant maternity, the special care baby unit, acute stroke and inpatient obstetrics from South Tyneside - leaving only Sunderland Royal to provide these services for South Tyneside and Sunderland!

Emma Lewell-Buck MP

In her opening remarks Emma Lewell-Buck MP (South Shields) spoke about the imposition by the government of the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) in local areas. She said:

“In reality right across England, people are discovering that these plans are actually about the biggest ever programme from any government to shut down our NHS for once and for all.”

She suggested that the present consultation is the first phase to do exactly that at South Tyneside Hospital, stating:

“Any consultation predicated on massive cuts, against a backdrop of cuts to other services such as social care, will [not] do anything at all to improve the health and care of the people in South Tyneside.”

Emma made clear that the Hospital Trust and South Tyneside CCG have asserted that the proposals being presented in the consultation have been formulated and supported by clinicians and staff at our Hospital. Yet many of the clinicians and staff at the hospital have contacted Emma and provided her with evidence to say that they have been actively blocked from participating in the review of clinical services, and have not been involved in formulating any of the proposals being consulted on. In response to this situation Emma asked:

“How on earth can the public be expected to trust a consultation that raises such serious questions around transparency and due process?”

Emma outlined her action to write to the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee in order to refer these matters to the Secretary of State. She concluded by speaking about the vital ongoing work of our campaign, and that she and the campaign will not rest in the fight to protect our hospital.

Marion Langley

Marion Langley (Staff Side Chair and Unison Branch Secretary at the South Tyneside District Hospital) gave further testimony to indicate that hospital staff are not being listened to. She said that the information that is going out in the consultation documents and at the consultation events is stating that staff have been fully informed and that staff have put the proposals forward themselves. She said:

“As chair of staff side, I continued to ask the questions: Who are the people involved? Who are on the groups of these committees that have sat down and worked out what the proposals are for the changes to the services within South Tyneside? I've always been given reassurance that the clinicians and nursing staff have been fully involved. We were never given names of those staff involved until just this July.”

Marion said that some of the staff that were picked to be involved in preparing the review proposals are managers. But whilst some of these managers have clinical qualifications (E.g. as nurses or midwives), in some cases they have not practised for many years, and they have not worked in the relevant service on which they were advising. At the same time relevant clinicians and nurses have been excluded from the planning process, she said:

“[the aforementioned list] included a senior practitioner that was confronted at one of the meetings and asked why was she there? ...shocking to think that, that person should have been there [at the meeting] to give advice, to give some indication of what that service need was, but then was asked why she was there!”

There are no minutes for the planning meetings and no transparency as to how these decisions have been made. Marion pointed out that in one case staff put forward an alternative option that was rejected at the '11th hour' without any feedback or dialogue so as to preclude any chance of developing that alternative. Marion said:

“[staff] have not had a voice in this process. I've spoken to some of the staff and asked... what means more to you... where you work... or the service that you provide and where that service is delivered? Our members have answered: It's where the service is delivered!”

The present action of the unions is to involve staff in discussions so they can express their views to them. Unison will submit its response to this 'so-called' consultation.

Gemma Taylor

Gemma Taylor (South Tyneside Public Service Alliance and Co-ordinator of Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign) spoke about the many important issues that had been raised in the consultation including the lack of clinical involvement in devising the review options for consultation. Gemma said:

“The working class movement, the trade unions and professional associations in the hospital have for many years been fighting to safeguard our NHS. For example, my own union, Unison, has been working with the community for many years. It was here that the call 'Our Hospital, Our NHS and Our Workplace' first became prominent in the fight against previous closures of services, and as well we were among the first to express the views of all health workers, that health workers add value to this society. This was in the face of the attacks of the previous coalition government to cut pay, conditions and pensions that caused many to retire, which leaves existing staff ...overworked and the hospital ...understaffed. This is why building a public service alliance of trade unions in the NHS, combined with the community has become a prominent feature of our powerful campaign to safeguard the future of the hospital. We are assuring within our power to try and turn things around. As you know we have already had a local demonstration last October and a regional demonstration this February, and were part of a massive national demonstration in London in March for our NHS. Already the national agenda of the May government to impose STPs has started to crumble, yet they continue to press forward with massive cuts to NHS budgets. This is one of the main excuses for the implementation of these plans in our areas even though the NTWND STP has not been agreed or signed off.”

Gemma concluded by saying:

“We have a right to health care and a right to our health services. Jeremy Corbyn came to South Tyneside last year when he signed our petition. He pointed out that health care is a right and not a privilege, and we should have access to these services as close as possible to our communities.”
Roger Nettleship

Roger Nettleship (Chair of SSTHC) remarked that all of us (whatever our status) have a claim on the economy such that it should meet our needs as a right. By contrast, the government presents our health, education, and most other public services as a cost and burden on the economy. Like education health care adds tremendous value to the economy. What is the economy for if it doesn't satisfy the need for public services, such as health and education at the highest standards?

Roger sent a message to those local leaders and those in health who are saying 'because this is financially driven by government cuts, there is nothing we can do, these are the only options and we have to accept them':

Firstly, if it is driven by government then it is not inevitable! Roger mentioned the recent success at South End, where the A&E has been saved from closure.

Secondly, in spite of the fact that service closures are being driven by massive cuts to the NHS budget, it has been admitted in the business plan that insignificant amounts of money will be saved by closing down acute services at South Tyneside. There are massive cuts to both hospitals totalling £35 million this year alone. How is closing South Tyneside Hospital acute services going to deal with the financial situation? The other main issue given for service closures is shortage of clinical specialists, doctors and nurses, but closing our hospital will not solve these problems in recruitment. There is no coherent government or NHS plan to train more specialists and nurses. This has been going on for 20-30 years. There is not a district hospital in the country that would not close if you imposed national standards on staffing and stopped agency staff.

There is no public authority trying to solve any of the real problems in the NHS. The proper funding of the NHS is the responsibility of government and public authorities, not a commercial market decision behind closed doors of independent commissioners and providers trying to make ends meet. Insufficient training of doctors and nurses is not being addressed and is in-fact being made worse.

The issue for health workers and concerned people everywhere is that we have to take control of this situation ourselves. We know it is not just about our health services in this region, NHS England, NHS Improvement, etc. - these now shadowy organisations - would like to use South Tyneside as an example (a model) to roll out cut backs to acute services all over the North East. Lets instead become a model to fight to safeguard the NHS in South Tyneside and Sunderland. It is our hospital, our NHS and our workplace.

Stephen Hepburn MP

Stephen Hepburn MP (Jarrow) was the final speaker and summed up making some overviews. He said it was inspirational to see so many people at the meeting. He commended all those who are fighting to save the hospital. He praised the NHS trade unions and their fight to maintain services while the present government cut wages every year.

In response to health service budget cuts (exampling the Jarrow Walk-In Centre closure, and the transfer of services from South Tyneside to Sunderland) he said:

“I love it when [the Tories ask] ...Where are you going to get the magic money tree to be able to fund all these things? ...Why not the magic money tree [where] you found the billions to give tax cuts to the top richest 1% ...why not [from] the magic money tree ...that you give billions in tax cuts to the top 5% wealthiest corporations.”

He concluded by saying:

“We should be saying to the management in South Tyneside 'No Surrender!' We will be standing by the NHS, standing by the workers in the hospital. We will be fighting this in parliament, we will be fighting it in the local council and we will be fighting it on the streets. They are not going to win this fight. We are going to use South Tyneside as our example, and we are going to win this fight. Lets fight for what's ours, not theirs!”

Opening Speeches from the Panel

Selected Comments from the Public

The important issues here tonight are that these proposals to dismantle our NHS in South Tyneside are absolutely shameful. When I had a heart attack a few years ago in South Shields, I was pleased to be able to be taken to an A&E provision in South Tyneside. Who would want to have to go all the way to Sunderland when you've had a heart attack or a stroke? ...When that pain is crushing down on your chest, you want to get to that A&E as soon as you possibly can. ...I take my hat off ...to those people who are leading our Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign.
I'm here from Maternity Services in South Tyneside. [There are] two options that have been put forward in the [consultation] document, a mid-midwifery led unit or no consultant lead services at all. I'm sure that members of the public don't realise that eventually there would be no births at all in South Tyneside. ...there will be no Sand Dancer babies!
I was chatting to a lady who worked in maternity at our last meeting. She broke down [the reasons why all maternity services in South Tyneside would eventually be closed. To begin with] all complicated births are not going to be in South Tyneside. But what constitutes complicated? [For example,] mothers who are obese, ...older mothers, anything that might pose a risk will be sent to Sunderland. ...The only [births] that will be in South Tyneside are ones classed as low risk. ...Because of all [the factors] that [constitute] high-risk, there is going to be so few low-risk [births] that the unit won't be feasible anyway and it will be closed.
"The Path to Excellence", it just makes you sick doesn't it! Why can't they be honest and say that it's all about cuts, that they have to save money and that's what it's about. I find it absolutely abhorrent. I read today that NHS England Strategic Director - Mike Macdonnell - has said that this is an enormous opportunity for the private sector. So again, that is a big part of the agenda.
I know from experience that if it had not been for the maternity unit in South Tyneside I certainly would not be here and neither would my son, because he was born 8 weeks early due to [sudden] complications, [then] the maternity unit did an excellent job looking after him. But if I had [needed] to go through to Sunderland from my house, the chances are he would not be here.
I was at one of the consultations, and to me it's an absolute shambles! They spend more time presenting the situation, without giving the public a chance to ask any questions.
The big problem that we have is the shortage of consultants, and of course the doctors that do come are spoilt for choice. They can [choose to] go to teaching hospitals or to the bigger hospitals. Why would they come to South Tyneside? I came because I loved the area and the people here, but how many [consultants] would think of that. ...They talk about A&E moving to Sunderland. Is Sunderland ready for that? I don't think they are. ...Has North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) prepared for this?
I'm speaking on behalf of the Local Public Transport Users Group. ...Our group was frozen out of preparing the data on public transport. We pushed very hard to be included in the real world journey times because the initial journey times were all done by a company that was paid by the Trust but they were all done on Google. The Scrutiny Committee challenged that and told them to go away and do some real world field testing and we said that we can help and link up with disability organisations, age concern, etc. There needs to be real testing of how long it takes [to get to Sunderland]. We have been fighting all the way along on the closure of the Jarrow Walk-In Centre [on the basis] of how difficult it is for people to get from Jarrow and Heburn to South Shields Hospital for a walk-in appointment there. The information they gave us at the launch [of the consultation] we have been burrowing into it and it is shocking! It's not worth the paper it is written on. It must be done properly. Our group is ready to do some real world field testing if this consultation is referred to the secretary of state, [then] we can actually prove how difficult it will be and how much it will cost people. ...So huge concerns, and we were promised a special meeting so watch out for that if the consultation is not stopped.
I work for the trust, I'm a mental health worker. Yes we did loose the Bede wing, which was an absolute shame, but we are in danger of loosing the primary care service as well, and the reason for that is because anywhere there is a building [there are] costs. So if it goes out to [tender], which it will do in the next 18 months, if [a private provider] wins the contract, they'll push all the therapists back into the surgeries, so you'll still have a mental health service, but what will happen is that you'll loose a lot of the good therapists. We've got a great team. You'll loose a lot of that team.
Nobody seems to know about the consultation process. It is not advertised in the hospital.
Whether you have been to one meeting or every meeting does not matter. What matters is that everybody continues to unite together to get the message across. The biggest part of this consultation that is worrying, is that the consultation with staff and clinicians was minimal.

Selected Responses from the Panel

Download: Roger's notes from the Q&A (DOC)