‘No abuse of health chiefs’

A SENIOR councillor has dismissed claims that hospital bosses were subjected to “abusive” behaviour from residents at a recent meeting.

Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, who is chair of Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum, said people should have the right to voice their concerns and ask questions of health chiefs.

It comes after hospital bosses refused to attend this Thursday’s public meeting to answer questions over the closure of the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool because it would be like “being in a modern-day version of the stocks”.

The comment was made in a letter to council chairman Carl Richardson from North Tees and NHS Foundation trust chairman Paul Garvin.

Mr Garvin also referred back to a heated health scrutiny forum meeting, where he described “abusive behaviour from some members of the public”, and added that the public meeting “causes me some concern”.

Referring to the comment about the health scrutiny forum meeting on September 8, Coun Akers-Belcher said: “There has never been any abuse.

“It is unfortunate that they have not raised this with myself as chair beforehand.

“I found out second hand through the letter, and there have been no concerns raised with me about alleged abuse.

“People have a right to ask questions; they are a public body and they need to face the public and be prepared to answer some difficult questions.

“If they were that concerned, they should have come to me as chair.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said he will always give residents that attend health scrutiny forum meetings the chance to ask any questions.

He said he was “disappointed” that they have refused to answer questions at the upcoming public meeting.

Coun Akers-Belcher added that the Trust is required to attend health scrutiny forum meetings and if they do not then they would be reported to the Secretary of State for Health.

Deputy chief executive of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust Carole Langrick, who is also the lead director for the momentum: pathways to healthcare programme, said: “We very much value our relationship with the Hartlepool Health Scrutiny Forum and the challenge it provides.

“The forum has been closely involved with the momentum programme and has worked in the interests of the people of Hartlepool to ensure services are safe and sustainable in the future.

“The forum jointly undertook the review of accident and emergency services with the North East Strategic Health Authority and not only made recommendations, but oversaw the changes which have now successfully been put into place.”

An extraordinary council meeting was adjourned on safety grounds on September 8 when councillors were due to hear from the trust and NHS Hartlepool, because the venue within the Civic Centre could not accommodate everyone who turned up.

At a further full council meeting a week later, councillors unanimously agreed to hold a public meeting to give residents a chance to quiz health bosses.

At this week’s rearranged meeting, Lib Dem councillor Edna Wright will propose a vote of no confidence motion in the health trust, as had been the plan at the original meeting.

The public meeting will go ahead on Thursday, September 29, at Hartlepool College of Further Education, in Stockton Street, starting at 6pm.

Representatives from NHS Hartlepool will take questions from residents.

This will be followed by the reconvened extraordinary council meeting starting at 8pm.

The venue can hold up to 300 people, and anyone interested in going along has been urged to get there early.