Path to Excellence
Last Updated: July, 2019

The Path to Excellence is the name that South Tyneside and Sunderland  Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs)  in partnership with the South Tyneside and Sunderland Foundation Trust have given to their plan to downgrade and close hospital services. The Path to Excellence is a plan for  Efficiency Savings , and is one Pillar of what local health service leaders are calling their Three Pillars of Transformation.

Along with the other two pillars  Integration  and  Prevention , the Three Pillars of Transformation aim to fundamentally change our local health services in-line with the latest overarching plan for NHS  privatisation  called the  NHS Long Term Plan .

The Path to Excellence has wide ranging implications for health services throughout the borough, but it is focussed on the downgrading and closure of acute services at South Tyneside hospital. That process has been broken into two phases:

Phase-1

Phase-1 was primarily concerned with downgrading stroke, maternity, gynaecology, and 24/7 children's emergency services at South Tyneside district hospital.

In 2017 plans for phase-1 went to public consultation. However the stroke unit at South Tyneside hospital was closed prior to the consultation, and attempts to close maternity were made at the end of 2017 (but resistance from the staff gave the maternity service a reprieve).

The consultation, which gave no options to retain our vital services, was challenged in December 2018 on grounds of its validity in a high court judicial review. This was a landmark case that would have set a legal precedent. The judge ruled in favour of local health service leaders, but delayed the formality of handing down the judgement by 7 months, and in turn this delayed the start of the appeal process. The length of the delay was extraordinary and has not been explained.

Phase-2

Local health service leaders have pushed ahead with plans for phase-2, which is concerned with the downgrading and closure of Accident & Emergency (and supporting services) at South Tyneside hospital. In 2018 they began preparing what they call working ideas, to be developed into options for a public consultation in 2019.

  • The working ideas comprise three proposals, which amount to a choice between minimum, some and maximum levels of A&E downgrading.
  • All three options remove emergency surgery from South Tyneside district hospital. This makes the A&E effectively non-viable as life-threatening emergencies will have to be dealt with at Sunderland.
  • The option for maximum downgrading is clearly favoured.
  • The favoured option will also restrict attendance at the hospital for minor injuries.
  • Issues relating to transport and accessibility raised in phase-1 have still not been addressed.

Phase-2: Capital Investment

From page 78 of "Working together for clinical excellence: Phase Two - Updated Draft Case for Change - February 2019"

In their working ideas document, it is stated that some of the ideas for downgrading our services (particularly the two most ambitious lists of working ideas) depend upon the receipt of capital investment to pay for the transformation of buildings, beds and other infrastructure etc.

As their document acknowledges, this sort of transformation funding is an integral part of the new  NHS Long Term Plan , and therefore South Tyneside and Sunderland Foundation Trust (STSFT) had been hoping to receive some of that funding.

However, in May 2019 Ken Bremner (CEO of STSFT) announced that the Trust is seeking £50-million in funding from our local councils (£35-million from South Tyneside Council and £15-million from Sunderland Council) in order to finance the capital transformation of phase-2. This is because in the 2019 spending review,  NHS England  have apparently changed their plans and will not be funding phase-2 of the Path to Excellence. According to Ken Bremner, this is in part due to NHS England diverting funds to complete the Royal Liverpool Hospital (see  Carillion ).

In response to this SSTHC have set up a petition calling for our local councils not to fund the downgrading of our health services.

This situation has been seen before in West London, where after seven years of fighting the downgrading of Ealing and Charing Cross Hospitals (a plan called Shaping a Healthier Future), NHS England finally revealed that it would not be funding the Shaping a Healthier Future transformation plans. Hammersmith and Ealing Council also refused to finance the plans, and consequently the plans have been halted. A major factor in this was that Hammersmith and Ealing Council actively opposed the loss of their hospitals, and commissioned a report into the money wasted by the Shaping a Healthier Future plan.