Campaigner blasts A&E ‘turn around’

A CAMPAIGNER has hit out at a council committee for accepting proposals to close the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Keith Fisher, chairman of the Save our Hospital group, has campaigned for several years for services for the Holdforth Road hospital to remain where they are.

Mr Fisher has hit out after Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum accepted recommendations by an independent review panel that the A&E department should close for safety and training reasons once alternative services are available.

But committee chair and member of the review panel, Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, said councillors were not in favour of closing the A&E department and said there has to be an “acceptable solution” in place before any departments are closed.

Committee members also agreed to set up a joint steering group, involving representatives from NHS Hartlepool, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, to steer the process forward without “unnecessary delay” and for further public discussions.

A major concern has been the inability to attract senior doctors to the department despite repeated attempts and health bosses fear they will not be able to meet health care standards unless drastic changes are made.

Mr Fisher said: “When it was first indicated that the A&E department was to close councillors made much noise, held special meetings on the subject and agreed to write to central government but then withdrew the letter.

“But now they are formally speaking in our council chamber in favour of closing our A&E.

“That is a massive turn around. There is a big difference between grudgingly accepting recommendations but to promote and speak in favour of it is another thing altogether.”

Coun Akers-Belcher, who said he was willing to meet with the Save our Hospital group, added: “We were not agreeing to the closure but accepting the report of the review panel after going through the process. Before any closures we need to make sure that we know what we are getting.

“The determination has not been lost and there is a lot of work going on to ensure that we have the best services available for the people of Hartlepool in the current circumstances.”

He added that there would be no compromise when it comes to 24-hour cover in town.

Healthcare is changing in town through the far-reaching momentum: pathways to healthcare programme which includes the planned new £299m hospital at Wynyard and the £20m One Life Hartlepool walk-in centre, in Park Road.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust announced last year that the A&E department could close as part of the wider picture.

But the council’s health scrutiny forum called for a more detailed look at the proposals which led to the independent review being carried out by a panel of medical experts.