The talks underway between GP-run clinical commissioning groups and the area’s four hospital trusts are exploring whether a new, more collaborative approach to providing healthcare can be drawn up.
It follows advice from independent consultants Deloitte that the current way of delivering health services could not ensure all of the improvements required would be achieved without a significant injection of funds or finding a new way of working.
Furthermore, Deloitte said carrying on as usual would be “financially unsustainable” and suggested officials should look at centralising more hospital services on fewer sites, known as reconfiguration.
GP commissioners want to see a range of improvements across the board, with all major acute hospitals providing 24/7 consultant cover and diagnostic services.
In a bid to find an alternative to centralising more services, NHS managers are now studying a collaborative approach being pioneered in Manchester and other centres.
This potentially involves a sharing out of medical staff and resources between neighbouring hospital trusts and the possibility of individual trusts becoming responsible for providing a particular service at a number of sites.
Analysts from Deloitte spent eight months between June 2013 and January 2014 carrying out a feasibility study.
The hospitals under scrutiny included Darlington Memorial Hospital, The University Hospital of North Durham, James Cook University Hospital, The University Hospital of Hartlepool and The University Hospital of North Tees.
It follows the Securing Quality in Health Services Project started two years ago.
The first phase of the project concluded last year that the current configuration of acute services was unsustainable .
In the second phase Deloitte have endorsed this view and gone even further.
The analysts said that CCGs need to make a decision to either accept the improvements already made to services “or to consider options for reconfiguration to deliver the clinical standards within a more financially sustainable model.”
The Deloitte report also warns that the financial challenge facing the North-East NHS is now “extremely challenging.”
Proposals on how to raise standards across the area’s hospitals are expected to be made public next year. NHS officials promised to keep the public fully informed about options for change.
NHS bosses across the region are also awaiting a Government decision on whether a new £300m hospital will be built at Wynyard Park in Billingham to replace the ageing hospitals at Stockton and Hartlepool.