THE future of health services in Hartlepool have been thrown into uncertainty after the Government dramatically scrapped plans for a £464m hospital at Wynyard.
The state-of-the-art hospital, on the outskirts of town, had been set to replace the University Hospital of Hartlepool within five years.
Proposals to close the Hartlepool hospital sparked outrage when they emerged back in 2003, and more than 30,000 Mail readers signed a petition in a bid to save it.
In January 2007 it was announced the hospital was to close and moved out of town, then 18 months later Wynyard was chosen from a shortlist of 10 as the location for a new build.
But just three months after the former health Secretary Andy Burnham travelled to Hartlepool to announce the Wynyard project was going ahead, it was yesterday axed by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government.
Town MP Iain Wright slammed the decision and warned it could "accelerate" the closure of Hartlepool's existing hospital.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced in the House of Commons that the project had been cancelled following a review of spending pledges made by the Labour government.
While a number of projects had been put on hold, 12, including Wynyard Hospital, had been scrapped altogether in order to make 2bn in savings.
A big question mark now hangs over the future of Hartlepool's hospital, where a number of services – including consultant-led maternity, the overnight children's ward and emergency surgery – have already been transferred to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
Other services from the Holdforth Road-based hospital have been transferred to other outlets, including a new 20m health centre in Park Road and an existing medical facility in Tees Street.
Health bosses were today counting the cost of the shock announcement, with "several millions" already spent.
Alan Foster, chief executive for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: "It's in the order of several million pounds spent going through the consultation process, planning applications, sorting out highways issues, as well as bringing in some external advisors."
He added: "Naturally we're disappointed but we welcome the Department of Health's offer to work with their officials on other options."
A statement from the Department of Health hinted that the Wynyard project was "not affordable".
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "In these tough economic times it is essential that all major hospital building – whether PFI or public capital – must be affordable and provide value for money for the taxpayer.
"Where major service changes are proposed, they must also meet the criteria set out last month.
"For Foundation Trusts in particular, they should be consistent with their independent status in relation to reduced reliance on departmental support.
"On this basis the Government has decided not to proceed with the project planned at North Tees and Hartlepool."
Steve Wallace, chairman of NHS Hartlepool, said despite the announcement to axe Wynyard Hospital, plans to integrate health services within the community to improve access would still go ahead.
Mr Wallace said: "Given recent events this decision has not been a complete surprise and we will be discussing with North Tees & Hartlepool Foundation Trust the implications of Danny Alexander's decision.
"But the wider Momentum project agreed with stakeholders across the town – bringing healthcare services closer to communities – should not be derailed by the announcement.
"NHS Hartlepool will continue to work on this programme to deliver the best access to healthcare for the communities we serve."
Wynyard Park chief Chris Musgrave said: "We are obviously disappointed by the news of the Government's decision to cancel the funding for the world-class hospital that was due to be built on the site.
"But we understand that the Trust is now evaluating the decision with the view to exploring other funding avenues for the project.
"However, since Wynyard Park Ltd took control of the site less than five years ago it has managed to attract more than 250m of private investment and now has 55 companies and over 1,000 employees at the Park and we are committed to continuing to work hard to build on this success and progress our exciting plans."