‘Politics is a dirty business but this is way too low’ – row continues after heated Hartlepool hospital meeting

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher.
Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher.

A BID to sever ties between Hartlepool Borough Council and the town’s hospital trust would put people “at risk”, it was claimed.

Coun David Riddle called for the local authority to withdraw all co-operation with the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust over its refusal to return hospital services to the town.

The motion was ruled “out of order” by the council’s Legal Services Manager Alyson Carmen on the grounds that withdrawing cooperation would contravene the local authority’s legal obligations and put many in the town, particularly children and vulnerable adults, at risk.

MAIL VIEWS: Hartlepool must be united over the future of our hospital

It led to the extraordinary meeting erupting in chaos, proceedings being meeting being halted by town mayor, Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher, and save Our Hospital campaigner Keith Fisher leaving.

WATCH: Hartlepool council meeting that descended into chaos – in full

Today Hartlepool MP Iain Wright backed the council and called for unity in the bid to get services back to Hartlepool’s hospital.

Council leader, Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “What I find so alarming and shameful from the meeting is that this move, which was purely for political gain, would also have prevented the excellent work of our council in safeguarding children and protecting vulnerable adults.

“In the wake of the Baby P inquiry and the recent Rotherham scandal how any councillor can contemplate absolving themselves from their responsibilities and ask our staff to do something illegal is at the very lowest end of politics.

“It would be a total dereliction of duty for any councillor to sign up to a motion that would be illegal and prevent us from protecting the very people we were elected to serve.

“I have a meeting next week with the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, and will do my utmost to articulate the strength of feeling of Hartlepool residents in demanding the return of hospital services to Hartlepool, including A & E.

“I’ll continue to fight this cause at every opportunity and I appeal to all councillors to work together to achieve this by acting responsibly and within the law.”

In response, Coun Riddle said: “Under the amended motion, there was no way a single person would have been put at risk in anyway as the Government would have stepped in immediately to protect people.

“I know politics is a dirty business but this is way too low. To make reference to one of the most gut wrenchingly awful deaths of a toddler in an attempt to save face with the public across Hartlepool is a new low.

“I’m absolutely stunned anyone would do this.”

Coun Riddle said the motion was the clear ‘next step’ after two votes of no confidence in the trust.

The meeting followed an announcement that Mr Wright has secured a meeting with Health minister Jeremy hunt over the issues and has invited an all-party delegation to attend.

The meeting, where the Mail’s 12,000-name ‘Bring them Back’ petition will also be handed over, comes after a march and rally in the town from by campaigners calling for action.

But Mr Right said we should be seeking to grow relationships with the trust rather than severe ties to secure better services for all in the future.

He said: “I understand the strength of feeling over these issues, but people must also understand that the council has a legal obligation to make sure that the health and well being of the people of the town is not compromised.

“The future of health care in this country is reliant on a greater integration between health and social care. We should be looking to bring those two elements together rather than seeking to severe relationships and we must remain united in a fight to secure the return of services to the town.”

During Monday’s the meeting Coun Marjories James said that withdrawing co-operation could lead to vulnerable adults and children receiving hospital treatment being unable to access council services, such as adult care packages and social care support.

Addressing Coun Riddle, she said: “By moving this resolution, giving residents hope it will make a difference, when it will not, is an absolute disgrace and a downright lie.”

Members of the public who packed into Hartlepool Civic Centre then vented their frustrations at Labour councillors - leading meeting chairman, Hartlepool Mayor, Stephen Akers-Belcher to call a halt to proceedings.

Cries of ‘you’re a disgrace’ and ‘shame on you’ were aimed at the mayor and Labour councillors as they left the chamber when the meeting was adjourned.

Former Hartlepool councillor Keith Fisher, a member of the Save our Hospital Group, was told he may have to leave the meeting after criticising the Mayor.

Mr Fisher left the meeting after being approached by security staff.

Coun Riddle then proposed an amended motion, in which co-operation would only be halted with the hospital trust’s management and board, but the council’s Legal Service Manager Alyson Carman advised that the motion would still place the council in legal difficulties, as it would breach existing contracts and partnerships in place with the trust.

Coun Akers-Belcher ruled the motion out of order, with no vote taken at the meeting.

The motion was backed by Coun Paul Thompson and Coun Geoff Lilley, who cited a failure from the trust to act on two previous votes of no confidence in its management by the council as reason for the motion being necessary.