HUNDREDS of people are expected to flock to a crunch health meeting this week – despite the refusal of hospital bosses to attend.
Hartlepool Borough Council chairman Carl Richardson has urged residents concerned about the changes to health care in the town to voice their opinions at Thursday night’s meeting after revealing there is room for 300 people at the rearranged forum.
He has urged people to get there early and says questions from residents will be the priority during the public meeting at Hartlepool College of Further Education.
The original meeting on September 8 – to discuss the closure of the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool – was controversially abandoned at the last minute in the interests of public safety after people found themselves unable to gain access into a packed council chamber at the civic centre.
The attendance was capped at 60 but the new venue holds five times that amount.
There was more controversy on Saturday when health bosses at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust appeared to deliver a snub by refusing to answer any questions from the public at the meeting.
But despite that knock-back, Coun Richardson insists people will still be able to have their say and has pledged to make the trust aware of the concerns expected to be raised.
Questions about the A&E closure from councillors will be put to hospital bosses ahead of the meeting, and Coun Richardson said he is hoping to have written responses back in time for Thursday.
The public meeting will last up to two hours, and the civic chief said he is keen for as many questions to be put as possible.
Representatives from NHS Hartlepool have agreed to answer questions from the public.
Coun Richardson, who is expecting at least 200 people to turn up, said: “I would urge as many people as possible to come along and also for people to get there early. This is our health services that are under threat.
“The priority during the public meeting will be for residents to ask as many questions as possible.
“Hopefully those will be brief so that we can get as many answered as possible.
“If we run out of time, then people will be able to write down their questions and we can put those to the trust and get them answered in written form at a later date.”
It was revealed on Saturday that health chiefs from the trust have refused to attend the public meeting to answer questions because of fears it would be like “being in a modern-day version of the stocks”.
That decision was branded “staggering” amid accusations the trust had “snubbed” the people of Hartlepool.
Coun Richardson added: “It is a shame they won’t be there but the representatives from NHS Hartlepool have been very co-operative and they will be there answering questions.
“I am still trying to encourage trust representatives to come. It is a public organisation and they should be accountable.”
Keith Fisher, chair of the Save Our Hospital campaign group, said: “The sooner that everybody in town knows about the time and date the better, because it is short notice.
“That is not a criticism of Coun Richardson, though, because he has reacted to the plea for the meeting to be held before the insulting dates of mid-October offered by the trust.
“I don’t tell people how to live their lives, but I would encourage people to get there early by whatever means possible.
“It was demonstrated at the previous meeting the amount of people that are concerned.”
At the rearranged meeting, Liberal Democrat councillor Edna Wright will propose a vote of no confidence motion in the health trust, as had been the plan at the original meeting.
Mr Fisher added: “To hold a vote on the motion, whether it is carried or not, sends out a big message.”
The public meeting will go ahead on Thursday, at Hartlepool College of Further Education, in Stockton Street, starting at 6pm.
This will be followed by the reconvened extraordinary council meeting starting at 8pm.