11th-hour hopes to save hospital A&E are dashed

The A&E Department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool
The A&E Department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool

THE accident and emergency department at Hartlepool’s hospital will definitely close on Tuesday despite an 11th-hour flurry of support to save it from the axe.

Hundreds of people marched through Hartlepool on Wednesday protesting at the closure. And there were calls from councillors for a last-gasp meeting to try and pressure health chiefs into a late u-turn.

But a meeting will not be held after health chiefs said the plans to close the department at the Holdforth Road-based site were now “past the point of no return”.

Medical director David Emerton made the clear statement to end any hopes of a reprieve for the doomed department.

He pointed out that the plans have been in place for months, and there will be a lack of fully trained doctors on the site to operate the service from Tuesday.

Mr Emerton, of North Tees and Hartlepool Federation Trust, said: “We are past the point of no return for the changes to emergency care in Hartlepool.

“Due to the training requirements of junior doctors we will not have the doctors to staff the service after Tuesday.

“We are all committed to providing the safest and highest quality service for the people of Hartlepool and east Durham and we will continue to put the final arrangements in place in time for Tuesday’s implementation date.”

The A&E department was declared unfit for purpose after an independent review by health professionals, academics and councillors from the health scrutiny forum back in March.

The changes are part of the Momentum: Pathways to Healthcare programme that plans for the majority of patients to be treated at Hartlepool’s £20m One Life centre, in Park Road, after Tuesday.

People with more serious injuries will be treated at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, while health chiefs carry on their plans to build a new hospital in Wynyard.

The Mail reported yesterday that councillors Edna Wright, Geoff Lilley and John Marshall are calling for an emergency meeting to be held in a bid to postpone the closure.

But Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, chair of the council’s health scrutiny forum, has hit out at his fellow representatives’ calls.

He also said that the forum has never had the power to say no to the decision to close A&E. Its role was to ensure the process was acceptable.

The Labour councillor said: “It’s absolutely appalling that certain individuals are suggesting that members of the health scrutiny forum are responsible for the A&E closure. This is totally mischievous, misleading and wholly inaccurate.

“Indeed, in September 2010 it was councillors on the council’s health scrutiny forum who exercised their full powers in writing to the Secretary of State for Health to object to the planned closure of the A&E unit.

“This resulted in an independent review of the decision, led by the North East Strategic Health Authority. The review concluded that primarily for safety and training reasons, the A&E unit should close.

“It must be made clear that the decision to close A&E rests solely with North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust. As borough councillors we have powers to make decisions within Hartlepool Borough Council but we have no powers to make decisions on NHS Trust matters.

“I also want to make it clear that it would serve no purpose whatsoever at this stage for the health scrutiny forum to refer the closure back to the Secretary of State for Health.

“We did this 10 months ago, a thorough review followed and the outcome was that an independent panel recommended that A&E should close.

“Now that the NHS Trust has decided to close the A&E unit and replace it with alternative arrangements, the public of Hartlepool can be re-assured that the council’s health scrutiny forum will be following the progress very closely from August 2 and will do everything possible to hold the Trust to account in making sure that the people of Hartlepool receive a first-class service.”