HEALTH chiefs have moved to reassure people there are no plans to close the maternity unit at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
Labour councillor Jonathan Brash had raised concerns about the future of the unit at the Holdforth Road site.
Coun Brash said there is a national shortfall of between 4,500 and 5,000 midwives in the UK and he fears the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust will come out within the next year and say they can no longer afford to run the town’s maternity unit.
But health bosses have confirmed there are no plans to close the birthing centre.
At a full council meeting Coun Brash said: “I expect in the next year the foundation trust will come to us and say ‘we can’t afford to run that service any more’.”
Coun Brash said he fears proposed government changes to the way health scrutiny forums operate in local authorities will weaken the council’s power to challenge decisions.
Speaking afterwards, Coun Brash said: “This is the next big issue for Hartlepool as I believe the foundation trust will announce the proposed closure of the midwife-led maternity unit at a time when the council’s one power is being weakened.
“They will claim it is not financially viable.
“It is an unacceptable disgrace and we should call on the foundation trust to state categorically that our maternity unit is safe.”
Alan Foster, chief executive for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have no plans to close the birthing centre at the University Hospital of Hartlepool. However, all of our clinical services are constantly under review to ensure that they are clinically safe, able to meet the latest published quality standards and are efficient.”
Coun Brash said there could soon be a situation where health scrutiny forums will not be able to make referrals if the decision centres on the financial sustainability of services.
Coun Brash believes the Government’s proposals would “water down” the powers of health scrutiny by creating “obstruction and diversion” in the referral process.
He added: “We need to protect health scrutiny as it is our one power in these matters.”
The Government consultation runs until September 7.
A consultation document from the Department of Health said any decisions to take further policy action on health scrutiny will be taken “only after full consideration” is given to consultation responses.