THERE are renewed fears that decisions over the future of hospital services across the region will be made by a team of NHS managers.

Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon believes plans to scrap the three sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) covering the North-East and North Cumbria and replace them with a single overarching partnership will result in key decisions being taken without proper consultation.

At the moment STP boards are made up of representatives from NHS Trusts and local authorities who have been working together to come up with a plan.

Loading article content

However, in an impassioned plea during a council meeting, Cllr Dixon, believes the change of direction will jeopardise services in the town.

He said: "The avenue that they (STP leaders for the North East and North Cumbria) are starting down raises concerns that whatever is going to happen is going to happen behind closed doors and without our input. I believe this really would happen without proper consultation in health services across the region – this is the future of the NHS being decided by a bunch of NHS managers."

Cllr Dixon added: "We must have the ability to look at the plans and object to them by having some input to the discussions. It seems to me that having asked the question, they haven't got the answer they wanted so they have changed the question.

"I think we would be remiss in our duties if we didn't raises these issues – I think it is an absolute disgrace."

A spokeswoman for the STP leaders of the North East and North Cumbria said the plan was still to improve services across the region by including local authorities and public consultation.

She said: “Across the three sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) covering North Cumbria and the North East, there are a number of common priorities. Local NHS leaders are looking at ways to coordinate the necessary change and improvement, while ensuring plans are implemented working with local partners reflecting needs of individual communities. This includes continuing to work closely with each council, to deliver on existing priorities.

“The Better Health Programme, which is part of the Durham, Darlington, Tees, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby STP, will continue with its ambition for better health through more self-care, prevention and care provided closer to home.

"The programme has not yet sufficiently developed options for how hospital services might be delivered in the future and any proposed changes will be subject to a comprehensive formal public consultation.”

The Northern Echo: FUTURE: Darlington Memorial Hospital Picture: CHRIS BOOTH

THE STORY OF NHS SHAKE-UP OF SERVICES SO FAR

LAST year’s launch of NHS Sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) across the country were met with trepidation by many health campaigners.

The plans to reorganise health services across the region formed part of the NHS Better Health Programme and brought together health trusts and local councils to investigate ways to improve services.

However, campaigners raised concerns that the changes could result in the loss of accident and emergency facilities as well as maternity and other specialist services.

For the last 12 months, campaign groups, including 999 Call For The NHS, have called for more clarity about plans for Darlington, Durham, Teesside, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby.

The controversial STP envisages the establishment of two specialist emergency hospitals in the region – Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital and either Darlington Memorial Hospital or Stockton’s University Hospital of North Tees.

In November protesters stormed a meeting at Darlington Memorial Hospital demanding to have their say on the plans.

Earlier this year, Darlington MP Jenny Chapman and Richmond MP Rishi Sunak put aside political allegiances to fight to protect maternity services at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

In February, Darlington Borough Council arranged a special meeting for members to air their concerns. While a proposed public consultation exercise planned for the summer was postponed until the beginning of autumn.

And last week the two MPs wrote to the chief executive of NHS England to voice their concerns about the perceived bias of two key NHS managers involved in the shake-up.