A Hartlepool councillor is seeking answers from NHS bosses after raising ‘extreme concerns’ about plans to downgrade an intensive care for local babies.
Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, who is chairman of the North East Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, has written to NHS England for clarification over proposals that would affect the neonatal unit at the University Hospital of North Tees.
The unit provides specialist treatment and care to hundreds of premature and sick babies, including those from Hartlepool, every year.
NHS England is proposing to transfer all intensive neonatal care from North Tees hospital to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough by the end of the year.
The North Tees unit would be downgraded to a “special baby care” unit.
At a meeting of the health scrutiny committee in Hartlepool in February, Dr Sundeep Harigopal, lead for the Northern Neonatal Network, outlined proposals for the reconfiguration of Neonatal Intensive Care services in the North East. They include James Cook Hospital expanding its services and for North Tees’ Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to only care for babies born after more than 30 weeks in the womb instead of 26 weeks now.
Sunderland Royal Hospital would also provide intensive care for babies born under 20 weeks gestation for the whole region.
The committee was told the proposals would only affect about 20 babies a year that would have been cared for by North Tees hospital.
However, Councillor Martin-Wells has now been told by a source that the North Tees unit is to be downgraded from September 3, and the number of cots potentially reduced from 22 to just eight or 10.
Coun Martin-Wells said: “I have written to NHS England and the hospital trust and asking for clarification of the present position.
“If what I have been told verbally is true then I am extremely concerned because the information given to me and my committee earlier this year was it would only affect about 20 babies a year.
“If that’s the case why would they be looking to close down between 10 and 15 cots because that doesn’t stack up.
“I have also been told it would have a massive knock-on effect on maternity services at North Tees.”
MP for Hartlepool Mike Hill said he is concerned about the effect any changes to the North Tees unit might have on people in Hartlepool, including staff.
NHS England North statement
A spokesperson for NHS England North said: “Over the past two years we have been reviewing local neonatal services to ensure we offer consistent high quality care, regardless of where our patients live.
“The proposed changes to the neonatal services have been discussed at several Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings over the last two years, most recently in February 2018 at which the Committee supported the recommendations on clinical grounds.
“By the end of 2018, all neonatal ‘intensive care’ services will transfer to the James Cook hospital and special care baby services will remain at North Tees.
“We feel that this is in the best interest of local families and their children, the numbers of babies and mothers that will be impacted by these changes are very low and the majority of patients, 90%, will continue to be cared for at North Tees under maternity and remaining neonatal special care baby services.
“By keeping neonatal intensive care and specialist centres for our sickest children, we would match their needs to the expert skills of our doctors, nurses and therapists, and make the best use of the NHS’s valuable resources. We will be engaging in due course with all staff and patients effected by these changes.”