THE handling of the ongoing shake-up of the region’s health services has been shambolic.

The Northern Echo has been scrutinising every stage of the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership for Darlington, Durham, Teesside, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby and the overarching Better Health programme it feeds into.

Options have been published for the future of hospital services, but amid a huge public outcry about the potential downgrading of some departments, the promised public consultation has been delayed time and again. At every opportunity, campaigners, councillors and MPs have called for greater transparency.

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Through all that, it seemed crucial to the public trust in any future changes that democratically elected councillors were part of the process, working in partnership with health trusts. That gave it a key element of public accountability. Today’s claims that three STPs for the North-East and North Cumbria are being scrapped and replaced with one body for the whole region made up only of NHS managers are therefore deeply worrying.

The statement from NHS England responding to these fears was typically jargon filled. The key points suggest councils will be involved and there will be a public consultation. But no timescales are given.

And while this process drags on, patients are left wondering whether they will still have local access to the services they need, and staff unsure about where their jobs will be based.

No-one is suggesting that such a complex reorganisation can be done overnight, but the longer this state of confusion lasts, the more those at the heart of it lose faith that the final decisions will be the right ones for the communities involved.