CONSULTANTS are being pulled out of the children’s day ward at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
From November, the paediatric day unit at the Holdforth Road site will operate with nurses.
It comes just weeks after Hartlepool Borough Council backed a motion for no more services to be removed from the site until a new hospital was built.
Health bosses deny the service is being downgraded, and say the changes will make “no difference” to patients.
But Save Our Hospital chairman Keith Fisher is angered by the news, and feels it makes a mockery of the pledge made by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to Hartlepool councillors where it promised to keep the local authority informed of any plans to either downgrade or axe services following the furore that followed the closure of the accident and emergency unit last month.
The unit caters for around three children each weekday for monitoring and assessment of illnesses under a consultant.
Paediatric nurses have been training for the last two years to take on more responsibility, and while bosses say they are more than capable of dealing with emergencies a consultant will always be on call should they be required.
Clinical director for paediatrics, Dr Jagat Jani, said he would not support any changes which would not “improve the quality of care a child receives”.
He added that there weren’t as many children in the hospital as there used to be as they are now vaccinated against diseases and have fewer accidents because “homes and cars are safer”.
At a full meeting of the council on August 5, councillors unanimously backed a motion opposing any more services being removed from Hartlepool hospital until a new hospital was up and running.
Mr Fisher said: “I am gobsmacked by this, but sadly not at all surprised.
“By cutting the consultants away, they may be leaving very able nurses, but they are removing the top people.
“That, in my opinion, is downgrading a service. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up.”
Mr Fisher added: “They can strip away at a department by removing the experts, then when they go back a few months down the line they can say ‘this isn’t working’ and then close it completely.
“There has been no consultation whatsoever on this, and after promising the council that they would keep everybody informed, then now is the time that the council has to stand up and ask what is going on here.
“The council needs to be as good as its word now.”
Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond added: “Neither myself or the council have been told of any changes, and we would certainly be interested to know about any proposals being made.
“The communication from the trust to their partners and the general public has left quite a lot to be desired recently.
“This is an emotive subject, there are a lot of mixed messages flying about and people need to understand what is going on.”
Dr Jani said: “As a paediatrician and the doctor responsible for children’s health across the trust, I certainly would not support any change to services which did not improve the quality of care a child receives.
“There are not as many children in hospital as there used to be because we now vaccinate our children against what were very dangerous diseases and children have fewer accidents because homes and cars are safer.
“They are looked after very well by community nurses and GPs.”
A trust spokeswoman added: “The paediatrician will remain present in the hospital, either working in the outpatient clinic or carrying out other work elsewhere in the hospital such as letter writing related to the patients under their care or research.
“Because the nursing staff are now trained to a higher level they will be able to deal with emergency situations as they arise. They work under agreed and very well understood protocols which are regularly monitored to ensure patients receive safe and high quality care.
“There is no change in the service.”