People in South Tyneside are making a last-ditch attempt to save a much-loved community hospice.
Last week, the South Tyneside clinical commissioning group (CCG) unveiled £1.5m plans to move end of life care for people dying in the borough to Haven Court, a purpose-build old age care facility on the site of South Tyneside Hospital.
The announcement was devastating for the thousands of locals who've spent months fighting for palliative care to return to the site of St Clare's Hospice, in Jarrow, which closed last year when the independent charity running it went into liquidation.
The new scheme will see nearly twice the £800,000 in NHS funding which was allocated to St Clare's provided to care for dying people, with four end-of-life beds set up at Haven Court, as well as extra support for people dying at home.
Kay Smith, who started a petition signed by over 13,500 people calling for hospice care to return to the Primrose Hill St Clare's site, said many elements of the new palliative plan were "amazing" - but insisted the proposed location was a "red line" for people in the area, with more beds and a change of location needed.
She said: "It can't be at the hospital, that's not what we want and we've got over 13,500 signatures to say that we want palliative care back at Primrose Hill. We don't want it in the footprint of the hospital, we want it back in Jarrow for the peaceful surroundings, for the size of the rooms, for the views, for the car parking, the fact that it's quiet: that site is everything that Haven Court isn't.
"My worry is also that on that site they will borrow doctors from the hospital and people won't get the specialist care they need at the end of their life: they're not pain specialists or palliative specialists and that's what you need."
Former nurse Kay, 57, from Whitburn, lost her partner Alan Price to cancer three years ago, and says the care he received at St Clare's Hospice enabled him to finally manage his pain in a way that hadn't been achieved in hospital, letting him enjoy the final few weeks of his life making memories with her and with his grandchildren.
She added: "Allan would be happy I'm doing this on his behalf, that's my drive, because St Clare's was such an amazing place that gave him those extra few weeks at the end of his life.
"I want to show the CCG how passionate we are about this. I do think this campaign has really made a difference and put them under pressure, but we need to really ramp it up now: we hope that when they open their mailboxes on Monday they'll get a shock, because the emails have been coming in by the thousands. They need to actually see the size of the public objections."
Jarrow MP Kate Osborne joined calls to resist the proposal, urging constituents opposed to the plans to email local NHS bosses.
She said: "For many months I’ve actively campaigned to bring palliative care provision back to the Primrose Hill site and it is devastating that the NHS CCG have now totally ignored strong public feeling and officially confirmed their preference to have End of Life Care facility based at Haven Court.
"I strongly maintain that any future Palliative End of Life care model must have an in-patient provision to ensure those who need this type of service can access it. This should be delivered in a peaceful, homely environment that was previously delivered by St. Clare’s, and not close to a busy main road, and in close vicinity to a hospital.
"This is not over and I would strongly urge as many of my constituents as possible to let their feelings known to the CCG to ask them to reconsider by e-mailing [email protected]"
The plans are set to be considered by the CCG's governing body next Thursday.
Matt Brown, executive director of operations at the CCG, told the BBC's Local Democracy reporting service that the plan would "give really good quality end-of-life care in a really peaceful, dignified environment".
"People felt really passionately about St Clare's and gave a lot of time and money to keep it going, but even with that commitment it went insolvent," he said.
"It couldn't develop the income it needed to survive, hence we're looking at NHS funding, which is more sustainable for the future."