A health campaigner fears proposed changes to emergency care could leave Hartlepool patients with a “second-rate service”.
Gordon Goddard, of the North East Empowerment and Diversity (NEED) group, expressed his concerns over the NHS Better Health Programme which is looking at accident and emergency care at the region’s four hospitals with A&E departments, including the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton.
Doctors say they could deliver specialist emergency care from fewer sites if the region is to provide a high-quality service and meet patients’ needs with one of the hospitals expected to lose out.
But NEED, which runs the Save Hartlepool Hospital campaign, say it could mean patients from Hartlepool and East Durham having to travel even further or put more pressure being on already stretched A&E departments.
Spokesman Mr Goddard said: “Once a hospital loses its A&E that is the death knell for it.
“It leaves us in an even more precarious situation than we are in now. If we don’t have either North Tees or Hartlepool the investment will stop coming.
“If accident and emergency is running at capacity now, how is it going to cope with one more A&E dropping out of the system?
“No matter which A&E is affected it is going to have a knock on effect to all the others.”
Clinical leaders behind the proposals say that the case for each of the area’s four hospitals that have an A&E department is being looked at.
They are Darlington Memorial Hospital, James Cook University Hospital, the University Hospital of North Tees, and University Hospital of North Durham.
They say no decision has been made yet but admit it could result in some patients having to travel further.
Mr Goddard added: “I do feel that it’s part of a bigger plan to close North Tees and leave James Cook and Sunderland for the people of Hartlepool which is going to basically leave us stretched even further. I believe they are trying to look at specialist hospitals over local hospitals which goes against a lot of research of the last couple of years saying we should keep health care local.
“They haven’t argued the case good enough of why one [A&E] needs to close. I have had so many people talk to me about it since it was announced.”
He said new houses being built and Hartlepool growing means there will be even more need for local services.
Mr Goddard added Professor Colin Thome, independent chair of a Local Health and Social Care Plan working group looking at services in Hartlepool, is preparing to publish his draft report soon.
“What if he says we need local hospitals and access to urgent care,” he said.