South Tyneside hospital changes prompt protest rally
Hundreds of people have held a march in protest at the reorganisation of health services.
A consultation over proposed changes to provision in South Tyneside and Sunderland finishes on Sunday.
Campaigners rallied in South Shields against what they call a "devastating downgrading" of services at South Tyneside Hospital.
Dr David Hambleton from NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group said "no change is not an option".
"If we do not change in a planned way then we will end up having to make changes in an emergency situation, and that is not good for patients or for staff," he said.
Reorganisation was needed to "improve the quality of patient care, ensure the future sustainability of services", he said.
Proposals include moving stroke, maternity and emergency children's services from South Tyneside to Sunderland.
Campaign co-ordinator Gemma Taylor said there was "massive concern" about the "huge impact" the changes would have.
A high proportion of residents had no car and having to travel further distances would affect the ambulance service and "put people's lives at risk", she said.
South Shields Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck said residents were angry and "they're not going to stand for it".
"How on earth are people from South Tyneside supposed to get to Sunderland in an emergency quickly and safely?" she said.
"It can't be done.
"And for the sake of savings of £2m - really?"
South Tyneside Council said, although a "challenging financial background and workforce difficulties" faced health trusts around the country, the "most important objective is to deliver the right outcomes for local people".
Moira Smith from the authority said "vital services" should be protected and it was "asking the CCG to reconsider the options for maternity services in particular".
Consultation feedback will be published in December and final decisions made in early 2018.