Health chiefs under scrutiny over fertility unit consultation

University Hospital of Hartlepool

University Hospital of Hartlepool

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Health chiefs have been criticised for failing to say exactly why a potential provider of licensed fertility treatments at Hartlepool Assisted Reproduction Unit was rejected.

Representatives of Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which undertook a search for a new provider at Hartlepool hospital, attended a scrutiny meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council yesterday.

(left to right) Angela Lathan (procurement and marketing development manager north of England commissioning support) , Karen Hawkins (hartlepool and Stockton NHS clinical commissioning group) and Ali Wilson (hartlepool and stockton NHS clinical commissioning group) during a meeting held in the Civic Centre, Hartlepool. Picture by FRANK REID

(left to right) Angela Lathan (procurement and marketing development manager north of England commissioning support) , Karen Hawkins (hartlepool and Stockton NHS clinical commissioning group) and Ali Wilson (hartlepool and stockton NHS clinical commissioning group) during a meeting held in the Civic Centre, Hartlepool. Picture by FRANK REID

It emerged that out of nine providers that expressed an interest in providing licensed services, including IVF, only one submitted a final bid.

That was CARE Fertility which had assisted Hartlepool IVF team for seven months.

It is also the UK’s largest independent provider of fertility treatment and has a network of 15 clinics up and down the country.

The CCG said the bidder failed on two ‘red flag’ areas but would not specify what they were.

Ali Wilson, chair of the CCG, told the Audit and Governance Committee: “When assessed against the criteria that they knew, unfortunately they didn’t meet the standards that we needed.”

She said they could not give any further details because it was commercially sensitive, other than saying they had followed their same ‘robust’ procurement process for all contracts.

She added the CCG had “worked tirelessly” to try to find an alternative provider after the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said it could not sustain the service.

Nigel Robertson, chairman of CARE Fertility, said in a letter they were particularly concerned to learn from the media that the CCG felt they did not meet the required quality standards.

He said: “Given that we’ve been a welcome partner in recent months, we would be grateful for and are deserving of an explanation how this can be the case.”

The meeting was adjourned until a future date following the CCG’s refusal to go into any more details, to allow both the council and CCG to seek legal advice.

Councillor Martin-Wells, chair of the committee, said: “I do believe this committee representing the people of Hartlepool and surrounding areas has the right to know why a bidder wasn’t successful when they have been successful in 15 other areas.”

Earlier, the CCG presented details of future arrangements for patients of the Hartlepool unit which it said would see the vast majority of treatments stay in town.

When licensed services, such as embryo transfer, are required patients would travel to Newcastle or Middlesbrough three times in a week.

Councillors expressed their disappointment at the situation.

Coun Brenda Harrison said: “We had one of the best fertility units in the country. I think it’s essential that we try very hard to keep that going.

“People shouldn’t have to go elsewhere, they shouldn’t have to go to Newcastle, unless they particularly want to.”

Karen Hawkins, director of commissioning at the CCG, said: “We believe that the CCG has undertaken a robust procurement process, it’s a process that we undertake for all procurements.

“The market feedback has identified that options for both licensed and unlicensed services to be delivered in the longer term at the Hartlepool site is, in their opinion, not a sustainable viable option.

“The immediate solution talked about offers the potential for the majority of services to still be delivered from the Hartlepool site and also provides patient choice.”

Mike Hill, Unison northern regional organiser, said the union is not convinced at all that all bidders failed to meet the necessary criteria for the contract.

He added: “Unison recognises the need to improve, strengthen and more importantly to return services to Hartlepool Hospital, which is why the closure of such a nationally renowned unit sends out all the wrong signals.

“It is only a small unit but it has made a big difference to people’s lives and has made Hartlepool a centre of excellence for IVF treatment.”