Hartlepool hospital meeting descends into chaos as public fire jibes at councillors

Councillor David Riddle.
Councillor David Riddle.

A STORMY health meeting descended into chaos and a meeting had to be halted after an angry row over a bid to cut off council co-operation wih an under-fire hospital trust.

An extraordinary meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council set up to discuss standards at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust was halted for ten minutes after members of the public fired jibes at councillors.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Independent councillor David Riddle, of the Putting Hartlepool First Group, had called for a vote on a motion for the council to withdraw all co-operation with the trust, due to anger over hospital services being shifted from the town to the University Hospital of North Tees.

But when councillors were given legal advice that agreeing to the motion could put council officers in breach of their legal duty, Coun Riddle was accused of ‘playing games’ and branded an ‘absolute disgrace’ by Labour councillor Marjorie James.

Coun James told the meeting that withdrawing co-operation could lead to vulnerable adults and children receiving hospital treatment being unable to access council services, such as adult care packages and social care support.

Coun James, addressing Coun Riddle, said: “By moving this resolution, giving residents hope it will make a difference, when it will not, is an absolute disgrace and a downright lie.”

Members of the public who packed into Hartlepool Civic Centre then vented their frustrations at Labour councillors - leading meeting chair, Hartlepool Mayor, Stephen Akers-Belcher to call a halt to proceedings.

Cries of ‘you’re a disgrace’ and ‘shame on you’ were aimed at the mayor and Labour councillors as they left the chamber when the meeting was adjourned.

When the meeting reconvened, Coun Akers-Belcher said: “If we don’t have order in the chamber I will suspend this meeting.

“People had their opportunity to speak earlier.

“I will not tolerate this room being treated in this way.”

Former Hartlepool councillor Keith Fisher, a member of the Save our Hospital Group, was told he may have to leave the meeting after criticising the Mayor.

Mr Fisher left the meeting after being approached by security staff.

Coun Riddle then proposed an amended motion, in which co-operation would only be halted with the hospital trust’s management and board, but the council’s Legal Service Manager Alyson Carman advised that the motion would still place the council in legal difficulties, as it would breach existing contracts and partnerships in place with the trust.

Coun Akers-Belcher ruled the motion out of order, with no vote taken at the meeting.

Proposing the motion, Coun Riddle had earlier told the meeting: “Aneurin Bevan had a vision for the NHS to be free at point of need and free at point of delivery.

“It is the most significant piece of social policy in modern history.

“It was set up after two world wars in which so many gave up their lives. It was set up so people had a moral entitlement to health care.

“Now 67 years on in Hartlepool, that moral entitlement is being taken away, piece by piece, by piece.”

The motion was backed by Coun Paul Thompson and Coun Geoff Lilley, who cited a failure from the trust to act on two previous votes of no confidence in its management by the council as reason for the motion being necessary.

Speaking after the meeting, Coun Riddle said the motion was the clear ‘next step’ after two votes of no confidence in the trust.

He said: “We realised the motion would be complex in terms of the legalities and practicalities.

“But there has been two previous votes of no confidence in the trust.

“The next step is that you are not going to want to work with an organisation that you have no confidence in them delivering appropriate services.”