Patients in County Durham could have to travel to South Shields for treatment under controversial proposals.
Bosses behind the NHS’s ‘Path to Excellence’ programme for South Tyneside and Sunderland have admitted families who currently rely on services based at Sunderland Royal Hospital may have to go even further.
But they also insisted they were working on changes which could see some care brought closer to home.
“In terms of impact on North and East Durham, yes, there will be an [impact on] planned care,” said Ceri Bentham, the scheme’s programme manager.
“We don’t expect any change in terms of the service provision for unplanned care for the residents of County Durham – they’ll still be able to access Sunderland as they do now.
“But with planned care, a significant proportion of it will potentially move to South Tyneside, so we’ve asked our travel and transport impact provider to specifically look at the impact on transport for County Durham residents.”
She was speaking at Thursday's meeting of Durham County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.
Work on the Path to Excellence started in 2015, with the first phase covering stroke care, maternity and gynaecology services and acute paediatrics in Sunderland and South Tyneside.
Changes were implemented from 2019 and have since been credited with, among other things, improving treatment for stroke victims.
Public consultation on the second phase, focusing on emergency services, planned care and surgery and diagnostics, is expected to begin in the autumn, following delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the latest version of the plans, emergency and unplanned care would remain at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
But planned operations under general surgery and orthopaedics would largely be moved to South Tyneside District Hospital, in South Shields, while outpatient services would be split across both sites.
According to Mrs Bentham, the current proposals could impact about 300 patients a year in the north and east of County Durham, who would have to travel further for care.
However, she also revealed use of the Durham Treatment Centre, in Belmont, Durham City, which is run by South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT) offering day surgery and dialysis services, could also be offered to families nearby.