Councillors meet with Health Minister

GOVERNMENT ministers have refused to get drawn into the row over healthcare in Hartlepool after telling a delegation of councillors it is a local matter.

Four councillors travelled to London to meet Minister of State for Health Simon Burns and air concerns over the closure of the accident and emergency department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, in Holdforth Road.

But after a 45-minute meeting, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s deputy told councillors the issue was ‘a local matter’.

Also present at the Department of Health on Thursday afternoon were Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who arranged the meeting, and Easington MP Grahame Morris.

Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, chairman of Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum, led the delegation.

He said a number of issues were discussed including the A&E closure, concerns about a lack of accountability and how public confidence can be restored.

They also touched on funding for a new hospital site at Wynyard.

The minister told councillors the hospital funding and A&E closure were separate issues and that the original plans for the new hospital were axed because it was not value for money.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who thanked Mr Wright for arranging the “unique” meeting, said: “The clear message from the meeting was that this is a local matter.

“We asked how do we hold the trust to account and he said one way would be through the new health and wellbeing boards, but what about the here and now?

“We need to challenge them now.”

He added: “The meeting was certainly worthwhile and we put forward our concerns.”

The town’s MP said he was keen for councillors to put forward the council view after the recent vote of no confidence in the board of directors at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

Mr Wright, who thanked Mr Morris for representing east Durham, said: “The minister said that he would not intervene.

“He said that this was a local matter and that matters relating to changes in services were down to clinicians and that it should be them that take the lead.”

Mr Wright said it was clear there was a difference of opinion between what the clinicians are recommending and what the public is demanding, in terms of no changes to health services.

He added that when the delegation asked what can be done to restore public confidence in the NHS locally they were told that the clinicians should take the lead.

Mr Wright said the minister agreed to look into communication problems surrounding the changes.

Meanwhile, Coun Akers-Belcher revealed that the minister keeps up-to-date with the healthcare row by reading the Hartlepool Mail.

The delegation included Labour group leader Chris Simmons, Conservative councillor Brenda Loynes and independent councillor Hilary Thompson.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “This is a local matter and we have made clear that any service changes must be locally led and consulted on.”

Councillors are expected to give further feedback at a scrutiny forum meeting next week.

The joint meeting of the health scrutiny forum and children’s services scrutiny forum is due to be held on Thursday, November 3, in the Civic Centre at 10am.