“We need to make choices, if we want the best possible local NHS services”
Wed 17th January 20180
As a local GP, I see the consequences of any changes to the NHS at first hand. I see the people worried about whether they will be able to afford to visit relatives with a stroke in Sunderland. I see women worrying about where to have their baby. I talk to midwives anxious about their jobs. I see the immense commitment and skills of NHS staff.
But I also see the people with lives devastated by disabling strokes. I see people coping with having a baby stillborn for years after it happens, or bringing up a disabled child because of a problem shortly after their birth. And I am crystal clear that I want the best health services I can possibly get for my patients. I want the fewest possible people to have to deal with these sorts of life-defining problems.
I see ever greater technology being used in health care to help solve these problems. I see dedicated staff training up with more and more specialist skills. I want this technology and these skills available to my patients whenever they need them. And I see the problem this gives smaller hospitals up and down the country.
Newly trained consultants and highly specialist nurses want to work in big units where the skills they’ve spent years learning will continue to be used and developed. I understand why they want to be part of a bigger team, why they want to work on rotas that mean they work hard on weekend shifts, but there’s enough people to ensure they don’t come round too often. And I understand why this means that unfortunately smaller units like South Tyneside Hospital sometimes can’t recruit enough people to fill their rotas, and when new technology comes along, they don’t have enough people available to ensure it’s available to everyone 24/7.
That’s why the hospital leaders came to us and said they would have to make changes in some of their services. That’s why we’ve been working hard with our colleagues in local hospitals to think through our future options for services. That’s why some of the options on the table include some services not based in South Tyneside.
It’s because we want the very best for our people, and we don’t want services to drift into being second-rate. When we talk about services being of the highest quality, what we really mean is that we want to help the highest number of people to get through serious illness alive and in good shape. We should never forget that that’s what our health services are for. And that’s what will be at the front of our minds in February when the CCG makes a decision on the long term future of services.
We’ve spent a lot of time listening to what people think of the proposals. People are right to care very deeply about the NHS, and I understand that most people would prefer it if things didn’t really have to change. But things do have to change, or we’ll risk either seeing more temporary service suspensions – which are good for nobody – or our services being unable to keep up with the best in the country.
Over the past year I’ve seen a mixture of facts, sensible opinions, emotions and concerns. But I’ve also seen wild speculation and guesswork dressed up as truth, as well as some confusion between the recent maternity issue and the decisions the CCG will soon have to take about a number of services. So I thought it was time for people to hear directly from the CCG about what is going to happen with their hospital services and how decisions are being made.
There isn’t some sort of secret plan to downgrade South Tyneside Hospital. If there was, I’d have seen it! What there is, is an honest acknowledgement by hospital leaders that they can’t keep on doing everything in South Tyneside, a commitment not to let sentimentality about the past get in the way of having the very best quality care for all our futures, and a determination to talk openly about choices as we consider what the hospital will do in the future.
South Tyneside Hospital has a great future. It won’t always be doing all the things it has in the past. But there’s cutting edge research, nationally important innovation, and some of the most caring staff in the NHS working there. If we talk the hospital down or speculate about ‘secret plans’ as if they were real, this makes it even more difficult to attract and keep the top quality staff our hospital needs.
Most of the people I talk to understand why there is a need to change. That doesn’t stop them feeling sad that change is needed. It doesn’t stop me being sad that change is needed.
But I’m not interested in doing the easy thing. I’m not taking part in a political popularity contest. I do my job because I believe the people of South Tyneside deserve the best NHS they can possibly get – whichever building it’s based in. And that’s what the CCG’s decision will be about when we make it in February.
~ Dr Matthew Walmsley