COUNCILLORS put their political differences to one side to record a vote of no confidence in health chiefs after a heated meeting to discuss the future of hospital services in Hartlepool.
But after more than 300 members of the public - many of whom had queued from 3pm to get a seat for the 5pm meeting - heard a heated debate lasting more than three hours, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust boss Alan Foster insisted he would not budge on pleas to restore services to Hartlepool’s hospital.
Mr Foster, who regularly faced calls to resign with tensions running high, told the Mail afterwards: “That is exactly what I was expecting from the meeting.
“This is not a rational debate. We cannot win. If we weren’t here, we’d be criticised, and we get criticised when we do turn up.
“But I will continue to say it. Services will never come back to Hartlepool.”
Mr Foster was joined by six colleagues from the Trust – including chairman Paul Garvin – to try to explain why services had been moved from the University Hospital of Hartlepool to North Tees.
There were passionate pleas from the public to restore services to Hartlepool, but after the trust insisted that was “not going to happen” despite plans for a new £300m hospital at Wynyard being shelved last month, councillors rallied together to unanimously back a motion put forward by Coun Paul Thompson which called for a vote of no confidence to be recorded against the organisation.
A series of internal controversies within the Civic Centre in recent months has led to some in-fighting between councillors, but those differences were put to one side to show “the strength of feeling from the people of Hartlepool”.
The initial part of the meeting saw the Trust representatives put forward a 25-minute presentation explaining why and how a number of services had been relocated in Stockton.
But those in attendance let the trust know exactly how they felt with a succession of passionate questions, the
majority of which were directed at Mr Foster and Mr Garvin.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright had a front-row seat at the meeting, which was held in the Town Hall Theatre, and after initially being booed by members of the audience he was cheered as he demanded services were brought back.
He said: “Wynyard is not going to go ahead.
“Hospital services have to be accessible to the people of Hartlepool, and as long as they are at North Tees, they are not accessible.
“Centralisation at North Tees cannot happen. You have to make sure services come back to Hartlepool.”
In response to those comments, Mr Garvin added: “We as a Trust want to provide the best possible care we can for the whole of our community, which runs from Easington to Yarm.
“To try to bring services back to Hartlepool would result in poorer quality outcomes for patients.”
Keith Fisher, who set up the Save Our Hospital campaign, was loudly applauded as he rose from his seat to question the Trust.
Mr Fisher said: “I’m not interested in North Tees hospital, and I’m certainly not interested in the one you didn’t have the money to build at at Wynyard.
“Foster and Garvin are the two I have a problem with. They have brought some lovely people with them to face this meeting, but it’s not their fault.
“Let the people in Stockton look after their hospital, and we’ll look after ours.
“Our hospital is basically an admin block, where lovely wards are being used as office space.
“It had the highest rating possible when those two – who I will treat with the same contempt that they treat the people of Hartlepool with – took it away.
“How we were ever joined at the hip with North Tees, I’ll never know. It was derelict, almost bankrupt and older than ours.
“Everybody in this room will have a terrible story to tell about the hospital as it is now.
“I’ve said it before, I don’t care who saves the hospital. If it’s Wright or Uncle Tom Cobleigh I will pat them on the back, but I will measure people by what they do between now and next May.”
Another resident who drives on the A19 each morning explained how it takes him half an hour to get from town to Billingham and questioned how that could be good for the people of Hartlepool trying to get to Stockton in an emergency. He said: “Alan Foster is chief executive. He has ransacked Hartlepool and failed to deliver.
“Is he worth a quarter of a million a year? I call on him to do the decent thing and resign. And I’d like a response from him rather than his puppeteer.”
Mr Foster quickly replied: “If I was to resign tomorrow you would get another chief executive who would do the same as I have.”
He then tried to elaborate, but was drowned out by loud jeering and cut short his response as the debate moved on.
Similar questions followed, while there were also concerns raised about issues including transport to and from North Tees as well as a number of complaints about the One Life facility in York Road.
Mr Garvin also rubbished claims that car parking at North Tees was a problem, and insisted he could see “plenty” of spaces when he looked out of his office window.
At the end of the extraordinary meeting, it was agreed that the council will now write to the Secretary of State and the Trust to formally make public its concerns.