Another blow to Hartlepool’s hospital services will see fertility services cut at the end of March, it has been announced.
Bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust say the decision to no longer provide licensed fertility treatment, including IVF, has been made “reluctantly” after a comprehensive review of the service provided at the University Hospital of Hartlepool’s assisted reproduction unit.
Bosses say they have not not been able to recruit enough embryologists to continue to provide the current service safely.
The decision means that licensed fertility treatments will no longer be provided, however the trust says it will still be providing some general infertility treatments.
The organisation added that it will be working with other organisations to look at the way services are provided in the future, to ensure that patients continue to receive appropriate treatment.
A staff consultation has also begun with “every effort” being made to redeploy the staff within the trust.
Civic chiefs today hit out at the announcement and said it may be referred to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Hartlepool’s council leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “Hartlepool council is vehemently opposed to the ceasing of any services from the University Hospital of Hartlepool and we will be fighting this all of the way.
“The announcement has come completely out of the blue and we feel badly let down by the lack of consultation.
“The council will be requiring that the hospital trust appears before the ‘scrutiny arm’ of the council to explain this shock announcement.”
While Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, chairman of the council’s Audit & Governance Committee, added: “In October last year the hospital trust made us aware that they were having some staff recruitment difficulties, but at no time have they mentioned closing fertility services at Hartlepool.
“I will be summonsing the trust to explain this shock decision to the council’s Audit and Governance Committee and unless they can come up with an acceptable rationale, I’ll be recommending as chair that we refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Health.
“This news is particularly disappointing as we’ve just been working with the hospital trust to find a way to avert the imminent closure of specialist neo-natal services at North Tees.”
Campaigners hoping to keep services in Hartlepool today hit out at the changes.
Stan Cronin, of the Save Hartlepool Hospital group, told the Mail: “I am absolutely disgusted that they can’t find enough people to keep departments going in that hospital.
“It’s beyond belief.”
Explaining the decision to stop licensed treatment, hospital trust medical director David Emerton said: “This decision is not a reflection of the quality of the service which has been provided for a number of years by the trust. We understand that this decision will be disappointing for patients.
“We have made every effort for some time to recruit, however we cannot continue to provide all aspects of the current service safely due to an inability to recruit embryologists.”
The trust added that it will be working with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority over the coming months.
Patients are being informed of the changes and they will be supported while they are transferred to another unit of their choice in Middlesbrough, Gateshead and Newcastle.
The fertility service began at the trust in the early 1990s before moving to the new refurbished unit in 2008. It provides on average 250 cycles of licensed fertility treatments each year.
Only last November, the unit was given a time lapse camera to help more couples conceive.