The Socialist 22 February 2012
For real jobs - not workfare
Gateshead: Children's healthcare under threat
In Gateshead the Primary Care Trust (PCT) is threatening to end all children's in-patient services within the borough in cases where over 23 hours of care is needed. Around 40 people attended the PCT's public consultation meeting on 16 February.
Not one person from the floor, which included parents, grandparents and hospital workers, spoke out in favour of the PCT's proposals.
In the PCT's glossy brochure they highlight that 'at times' fewer than 50% of beds in the children's unit are occupied. However, staff from the QE hospital reported to the meeting that: "tonight all 16 beds on the unit are full".
One parent asked the PCT what volume of negative responses would it take for them to reconsider their plans. The response was that even two million wouldn't guarantee anything, though admitting they have in the past shelved unpopular ideas.
Of the two proposals the only difference was whether the short-stay assessment units would be open 14 or 24 hours a day.
However, both the options would end in-patient care of over 23 hours in Gateshead or South Tyneside hospitals.
None of the public at the meeting had heard about it via the PCT. Disgracefully, this included the mother of a severely disabled child who has spent over 23 hours in Gateshead's children's unit 30 times.
It had been left to trade unionists, socialists and others to raise the issue and effectively advertise it.
Concerns were raised about the maternity ward, where already ante-natal classes have been stopped. Pregnant women have reportedly been advised to look on the internet for information!
The response of the PCT that maternity services "will not change, but what happens in the future I do not know" was not reassuring.
The PCT estimates that no more than four children would be affected each day. But this means almost 1,500 families a year.
Those attending the meeting have huge concerns about this attack on Gateshead's children's unit, and did not believe the PCT who said this was not a cost-cutting exercise.
As one person commented: "If it's not a cost-cutting exercise, it's clearly just incompetence".
By the end of the meeting those on the top table all looked dejected. Even the consultant paediatrician, who spoke on the platform on behalf of the PCT conceded "I would passionately like to keep the service in Gateshead".
Children in Gateshead need a sick children's unit in the borough. Staff from the hospital, parents, grandparents and others from Gateshead are preparing to fight to retain this service.
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