As part of the First Phase of the Path to Excellence consultation, Sharon was invited to attend a meeting of the Sunderland and South Tyneside Joint Health Scrutiny Committee to give her views on the consultation and the proposed plans.
Sharon's comments from the meeting can be read below.
If any constituent wishes to include their views in this consultation, they can visit the Path to Excellence website and fill out the survey there: https://pathtoexcellence.org.uk/take-part-survey/
Further details about the proposed plans can be read on the Path to Excellence website.
PLEASE NOTE THE CONSULTATION CLOSES AT MIDNIGHT ON THE 15TH OCTOBER 2017.
** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY **
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to your committee this afternoon.
I don’t want to speak for too long, as I know there is a packed agenda of other stakeholders to hear from.
In my contribution, I just want to raise some points about the consultation along with seeking reassurances that as many people as possible are being consulted with, especially those from disadvantaged groups.
As we know, these proposed plans come at a time when the NHS is facing serious reductions in its resources form central government with every growing demand by patients.
The work of our NHS staff is commendable and we should never stop praising them for their hard work and dedication – something I know every one of us in the room here today can agree upon.
However, I want to seek assurances from those here today that the plans being put forward will not put further strains on our already overly stretched NHS staff and guarantee that patients will not see a diminished quality or access to services?
Capacity has already been mentioned with regard to Sunderland Royal Hospital and I’m sure will be mentioned again by others. But also the Royal Victoria Infirmary and Queen Elizabeth Hospital could be effected.
We cannot escape the fact that these plans are about cuts. Cuts which are passed off as efficiencies but nevertheless, are being inflicted upon our NHS from a national position which is ideologically driven.
We know efficiencies can always be made when it comes to our public services, but the drive to make our NHS more efficient should never be done in a way that impedes on the experiences of staff and patients alike.
I’m aware some centralising of services make sense and can greatly improve the services offered so this is about taking the public, staff and patients on this journey with a full and transparent consultation, which is why we are all here today.
Service users and staff should be at the centre of every decision made. I know that my constituents want to see quality NHS services in their local area that they can access with ease by staff who are confident in the structures designed.
That is why I welcome that this consultation is happening, whilst recognising there are concerns about how it is being done. For example, am I correct in thinking that people are not allowed or encouraged just to turn up at the public hearings – but have to register first to be allowed to attend?
People should have their voices heard on these proposals, as we know that people value our NHS so dearly. The consultation events being held are important, but as we know people may not have the chance to attend these sessions and will instead take part in the survey on the Path to Excellence website.
Though, from recent information released to the public, there have only been 414 survey responses to date. Is that correct? It may be a little higher since that figure was released. Now I don’t have the population figure to hand that this consultation covers but it’s many hundreds of thousands, possibly not much short of ½ million. So that does seem a little low to me?
So I have genuine concerns that these responses will not fully reflect the thoughts of local people, and as a crucial way for people to engage with this consultation, I hope that the two remaining sessions planned will be opened up to as many people as possible to allow people with as many opportunities as possible to engage with the future of local provision.
Decisions as great as these should have the fullest engagement from local people so that services reflect what they wish and expect.
It is also important that groups who are harder to engage with, through many complex reasons, have their say including young people and older people, disabled people, BME communities and LGBT people.
Some of these groups access services on a regular basis and it is crucial that they are listened to, just as all of us should be.
I understand that support is out there for charities and organisations to provide routes in for these groups to engage with the consultation – and I would welcome an update from the committee on this and what they hope to do further to ensure everyone is listened to.
These plans will change the very nature of our local NHS services. Consultation is important so that people are not caught unaware when a service may close and they then struggle to access it.
I hope the committee can give me the reassurances that this consultation is being done in a way that everyone can have their say, and we can ensure our NHS reflects the wishes of local people.