Organising a four-and-a-half mile march from one side of the town to the other in early January are probably not the best grounds for a successful venture.
Couple that with the fact that the evening before the march saw the high force gales throughout Hartlepool, which led to the cancellation of several events, and the omens are not good.
However, the fact that last Saturday’s march regarding the return of hospital services to Hartlepool in the wake of the NHS Trust’s decision in October to pause development on the Wynyard project was so well attended is testimony to the strong feelings about this matter.
Approximately a thousand people marched all or some of the way. All credit to those who participated and particular credit must go to the organisers of the event.
The march was cold and often windy, and there was a stretch along Seaton front when hailstones started coming down.
But the atmosphere was very good-natured and determined and the weather improved as the march went on.
Motorists beeped their horns throughout the journey as the march progressed, showing solidarity with those walking.
The march was important and significant, but other work in the town is continuing.
Hartlepool Borough Council wrote to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to request a meeting to discuss developments in hospital services in the town.
The Secretary of State refused point blank to meet elected representatives and me.
This was, in effect, a massive snub to the town.
It is a convention that when MPs ask to meet Ministers, regardless of party, they usually do.
This happened with the Schools Minister last week, when I arranged for the headteacher of High Tunstall to discuss plans for the rebuilding of the school.
It even happened a couple of years ago, when a cross-party delegation of councillors and I met with the Health Minister to discuss the closure of the A&E in the town.
In order to reaffirm the council’s wish to meet with the Secretary of State for Health, I asked a Written Parliamentary Question which received an answer from a junior minister – not the Secretary of State himself - on Friday.
This was the question and the full answer, all 30 words of it:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, if he will meet (a) the hon. Member for Hartlepool and (b) representatives from Hartlepool Borough Council to discuss the issue of transferring hospital services back to the University Hospital of Hartlepool; and if he will make a statement.
His answer: “In line with the Government’s commitment to devolve power to communities, decisions about NHS services are essentially a matter for the NHS locally in consultation with the communities they serve.”
In Health Questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, and I asked the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, a direct question. This is what I said and his response:
“The Secretary of State refuses to meet Hartlepool Borough Council and me on the issue of hospital services in Hartlepool. On Wednesday in this House he said: “I take responsibility for everything that happens in the NHS.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 277.]
“If so, will he respond to the 12,000 people who signed the petition organised by the Hartlepool Mail, the 1,000 people who marched on Saturday morning, Hartlepool Borough Council and me on this issue? Will he stop snubbing the people of Hartlepool, work with us and make sure that hospital services can return to Hartlepool?”
His answer: “I do take responsibility, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will be responsible in his campaigning in Hartlepool and welcome the extra doctors, extra nurses, extra operations and extra number of people seen within four hours in his constituency. It is a record of success, of which this Government are proud.”
I don’t really think the Secretary of State has the first clue about what is going on in Hartlepool, given that complacent and contradictory answer. The fact that he has stated that he is proud of achievements simply beggars belief.
While he claims to take responsibility for everything that takes place within the NHS, he still gets his junior minister to claim that decisions regarding NHS services are essentially a matter for the NHS locally in consultation with the communities they serve in the reply to my written question. If that truly is the case, why can’t local people and democratically-elected representatives in the council, from all parts of the political spectrum, have a say during a meeting? Surely that is the nature of consultation?
If the Minister won’t meet, the next step is to ask for a Parliamentary debate, to once again discuss these issues in the House of Commons.