HEALTH chiefs have refused to attend a public meeting to answer questions over the closure of A&E because it would be like “being in a modern-day version of the stocks”.
Hartlepool Council chairman Carl Richardson branded the decision as “staggering” and said North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust had “snubbed” the people of Hartlepool.
An extraordinary council meeting was adjourned on safety grounds on September 8 when councillors were due to hear from the trust andNHS Hartlepool because the venue within the Civic Centre could not accommodate everyone who turned up.
At a further full council meeting a week later, councillors unanimously agreed to hold a public meeting to give residents a chance to quiz health bosses.
But in a letter to Coun Richardson, North Tees and NHS Foundation trust chairman Paul Garvin said “this new element of public meeting appears to be more like a show trial or modern-day version of the stocks” and added “the trust is not willing to participate in a public meeting on this occasion”.
Referring to the abandoned meeting, Mr Garvin added: “For our part we made every effort to be present which involved members of our team cancelling clinical and private commitments in order to attend, only to waste three hours of their time”.
He also referred back to a heated Health Scrutiny Forum meeting, where he described “abusive behaviour from some members of the public” and added that the public meeting “causes me some concern”.
Coun Richardson said he was “stunned” to receive the letter and quickly sent it via email to all of the elected members.
In his email to councillors, he said: “I must say I find this incredible coming from a public organisation and therefore I am no longer prepared to wait for them to get their act together.
“I think the attached letter gives us a hint of what they feel about public meetings, therefore I am re-convening the adjourned extraordinary council meeting for Thursday, September 29.”
In a separate statement, Coun Richardson added: “I find it quite staggering that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is refusing to attend a public meeting.
“Since the adjourned extraordinary meeting on 8 September we have bent over backwards to try and accommodate the trust for the reconvened meeting but the earliest date they gave us was October 17.
“The closure of the A&E unit is the most talked about issue in the town at the moment and I do find it extremely disappointing that the Trust is not treating this as a high priority.
“On top of this the Trust has now snubbed Hartlepool residents by refusing to attend a public meeting.
Mr Garvin later told the Mail in a statement that both him and the trust’s chief executive Alan Foster are out of the country on Thursday and were unable to attend.
Mr Garvin said: “We are disappointed that Hartlepool Council are going ahead with the extraordinary meeting on Thursday, September 29, despite having been informed that both myself and chief executive Alan Foster are out of the country.
“Quite rightly as leaders of our trust we would want to represent the trust at any meeting with the council, this we proved by attending the original meeting on September 8 which was unfortunately adjourned.
“We were very disappointed that this meeting did not go ahead and were looking forward to it being re-arranged at a mutually convenient time. We gave the council a number of suitable dates, however, disappointingly they have arranged for it to go ahead at a time when we are both unavailable.
“Providing the best possible care for our patients is our main priority and we are more than happy to meet with Hartlepool Borough Council and answer questions from councillors as the elected representatives of the people of Hartlepool.
“The changes to emergency services in Hartlepool are part of the momentum: pathways to healthcare programme which aims to take services out of hospital and provide care closer to people’s homes. They were also one of the recommendations of the independent review carried out by the North East Strategic Health Authority and the Hartlepool Overview and Scrutiny committee which comprises members of the council.
“This committee also agreed the comprehensive communication plan which, despite a few hiccups, judging by the number of patients using the minor injuries unit and getting to the right place at the right time is working well.”
At the rearranged meeting, Lib Dem councillor Edna Wright will propose a vote of no confidence motion in the health trust, as had been the plan at the original meeting.
The public meeting will go ahead on Thursday at Hartlepool College of Further Education, in Stockton Street, starting at 6pm.
This will be followed by the reconvened extraordinary Council meeting starting at 8pm.