Hartlepool Borough Council has defended spending £12,000 on taking a hospital trust to the High Court to prevent the closure of key fertility services in the town.
The council revealed the £12,205 legal costs of the action as it hit back at criticism from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust following last week’s court hearing.
This could have been avoided if the hospital trust had agreed to our reasonable requestsGill Alexander, Chief Executive Hartlepool Borough Council
Licensed fertility services provided at Hartlepool hospital’s Assisted Reproduction Unit (ARU) were given a temporary reprieve last week when both sides agreed to take part in a consultation about the unit’s future.
The health trust was critical of the council, which it said had wasted public funds on action it felt was unnecessary.
But the council says the trust could have prevented it if it had taken part in meaningful discussion including attending three public council meetings when the trust’s chairman and chief executive both failed to turn up.
Gill Alexander, Hartlepool council chief executive, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the council had to take High Court action, and this could have been avoided if the hospital trust had agreed to our reasonable requests, which were made in correspondence and also publicly at a meeting of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee.
“We have spent over £12,000 of taxpayers’ money and it is regrettable that the trust only acknowledged the council’s concerns and the need for public consultation through court action.
“The council firmly believes that its actions were justified and correct, as proven by the outcome at court.”
At last Tuesday’s hearing, a consent order was made, which requires the hospital trust to undertake meaningful consultation over the future of licensed fertility services and ordered the unit to stay open until at least the end of July.
Ms Alexander added: “It is frustrating however, that we have been criticised for the action we took in seeking to protect vital hospital services in the town.
“We now earnestly hope that the trust and all other stakeholders actively engage in the consultation process and that there are outcomes which protect this vital service.”
A quarter of the costs are being met by the council’s Audit and Governance Committee, which has a dedicated budget to scrutinise decisions and hold organisations to account.
The remainder will be met from the council’s General Fund.
A spokesman for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have been openly engaging with Hartlepool Council since January on the options available for licensed fertility services and at no point have we put any staff at notice of redundancy.”