‘People still don’t know what to do’

COUNCILLORS say efforts to tell people about changes to Hartlepool’s emergency health care have failed.

Members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum urged hospital bosses to do more to inform residents what to do in case of an emergency following the closure of the town’s A&E department last month.

People who would have gone to the A&E at the University Hospital of Hartlepool are advised to go to the new One Life Hartlepool medical centre, in Park Road, which has a minor injuries unit.

Chairman of the health scrutiny forum, Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, said communication to the public on what to do in an emergency had partly failed and needed addressing urgently.

He said he was concerned by patients’ stories which have appeared in the Hartlepool Mail since the closure of the A&E department.

Callan Redshaw, 17, ended up needing lifesaving surgery for a brain bleed after initially being prescribed with paracetamol for a headache at One Life.

Another Hartlepool resident, Julie Rigg, 30, said she feared for her life while she bled in the back of an ambulance while paramedics debated with centre staff where to take her for treatment.

And two-year-old Emily Laking was sent away from One Life with her parents after being told she had a cold. Hours later she was admitted to hospital with pneumonia.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “We can’t afford to have a catalogue of people feeling that they don’t know what to do.

“Unfortunately, in part, communication has failed. It’s not been effective and this is why we are in a situation where people don’t know exactly where to go, or go to the media.”

Carole Langrick, deputy chief executive of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It’s unfortunate some people do end up going to the wrong place the first time.

“What we’re seeing is that on the whole, patients are seeking treatment in the most appropriate place.”

But she pledged the trust would do more to get the word out after councillors said many residents had not received leaflets about the changes despite efforts to deliver to 85 per cent of homes.

Prior to last night’s full council meeting, the trust gave a presentation to the council yesterday morning on how the changes had gone in the first 27 days of the A&E closing.

Slightly more people than expected had visited One Life Hartlepool at 1,478. But fewer patients than expected had used the A&E at North Tees Hospital, in Stockton.

Miss Langrick assured the meeting that, despite reports, no outpatient clinics had been cancelled as a direct result of the health changes in Hartlepool.

The Trust added it was committed to communicating with the public about urgent care services until the planned hospital at Wynyard opens.

The Department for Health is due to rubber-stamp the hospital business case in early October, before getting approval from the Treasury within 30 days.

Miss Langrick also defended the decision to close the A&E department due to lack of senior doctors, despite widespread opposition from Hartlepool residents.

She said: “Do you want to be treated and seen by the most appropriate person or not?

“I know what my answer would be and I know what I would want for the people of Hartlepool, and that is to see the person who can actually treat them.”