Bid to halt closure of Hartlepool’s fertility unit is rejected

The University Hospital of Hartlepool's Assisted Reproduction Unit is on course to close from March 31.
The University Hospital of Hartlepool's Assisted Reproduction Unit is on course to close from March 31.

A union has hit out at hospital chiefs for failing to put plans to close Hartlepool hospital’s fertility unit on hold while talks about its future are ongoing.

Unison has accused North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust of being “hell bent” on closing the Assisted Production Unit in Hartlepool from the end of March.

Two weeks ago Hartlepool Borough Council said it had heard from lawyers for the trust that it is prepared to enter into a formal consultation over the unit’s closure.

Both the council and unions urged the hospital trust to reverse their earlier decision on closure of the fertility unit, and safeguard staff jobs, until the outcome of the consultation was known.

But in a response sent to the union, the trust said as the decision had been made on patient safety grounds it would be “irresponsible” to allow licensed fertility services, including IVF, it to continue.

Mike Hill, regional organiser for Unison, said: “This response simply beggars belief, especially as it comes just two days after Hartlepool council’s chief solicitor wrote to the trust with similar demands to those raised by the trade unions. This has prompted fears among staff that the trust are hell bent on pressing ahead with plans to cut the workforce and therefore render the unit non-operational by March 31.”

Ann Burrell, the trust’s director of human resources, told Unison: “You request to maintain the status quo in allowing the ARU to continue to operate as it is now, unfortunately I am unable to agree this request. The decision to discontinue the provision of licensed treatment has come as a result of being unable to recruit and retain sufficient embryology cover which presents a patient safety issue.

“It would be remiss and irresponsible of the trust to allow the unit to continue to operate beyond 31 March 2016 on this basis.”

Bosses refused to comment further.

The trust was due to answer questions about the reasons behind the decision to close the unit at a meeting of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee this morning.