HEALTH bosses faced a three-hour grilling over the future of services in Hartlepool.
Officials attended Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum to outline proposals to move a string of services out of the University Hospital of Hartlepool and into One Life Hartlepool, in Park Road.
Ahead of the meeting it had already been confirmed the phased programme, due to start next month, had been postponed.
But representatives from the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and the NHS Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) attended to answer questions.
They faced a string of questions from angry residents about the future of the Holdforth Road hospital, concerns around the One Life centre and whether the Park Road site had the capacity to cope with additional services.
Health bosses moved to reassure residents they would be consulted, with the focus on improving services for patients.
Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said the bigger picture was the future viability of Hartlepool’s hospital.
Putting Hartlepool First group leader, councillor Geoff Lilley, said: “This is not just about services going to One Life – it is about the removal of services from Hartlepool hospital and threatening its future viability.”
Independent councillor Keith Fisher added: “Moving any further services from the hospital weakens the hospital and the argument for it and the viability of it.”
He asked whether the postponement was a delaying tactic.
But health bosses said they wanted to hear people’s views.
Officials said the situation would be clearer once a decision is made over a new £300m hospital at Wynyard, which would replace hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton.
They said they were under pressure to make savings, but said improving services was key.
Ali Wilson, interim chief officer for Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees shadow CCG, said: “Front-line savings is a key driver, but above that it is about the safety and quality of care for patients.”
Mrs Wilson added: “We are still working towards a single-site hospital.
“We are as frustrated as most other people that we still do not have an answer to that.”
Resident Fred Corbett said the trust had ignored the 30,000 strong petition to save Hartlepool hospital and said nobody would want to work there knowing its uncertain future. Jean Macleod, a consultant physician with the trust, said a number of experienced consultants had been employed in the past six months and said any suggestion changes were being made because of a political agenda were “insulting to clinicians in Hartlepool”.
East Durham resident Barry Chambers voiced concerns they had been ignored in the process.
One resident asked if One Life had the capacity to cope with additional services.
Mrs Wilson said: “We do believe there is ample space within One Life to accommodate services.”
Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, forum chairman, said it was clear people were very worried about the proposals.
Mrs Wilson added: “We will continue to have these difficult discussions because it is important we let you know the things that are affecting health services.”
Conservative group leader Ray Wells said he was unhappy the proposals had been made public before the health forum had been consulted adding: “It makes a mockery of this committee.”
Health chiefs apologised.