Fertility services in Hartlepool have been reprieved - for now - following an emergency High Court hearing today.
And council bosses have vowed to do all they can to make sure the assisted reproduction unit (ARU) remains in the town.
Health chiefs planned to close licensed fertility treatment, including IVF, at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, in Holdforth Road, at the end of last month.
But Hartlepool Borough Council got an injunction halting the closure pending a challenge at London’s High Court today.
Clive Sheldon QC, for the council, told Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb: “The parties have been able to agree terms to resolve this dispute.”
North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has agreed to engage with users about the future of the licensed fertility treatment at the ARU and to consult with the council, said the QC.
While consultation takes place, the trust will ‘take no step’ towards closing the ARU and will do its best to continue to provide the treatment services there.
The trust and council agreed to ‘use their best endeavours’ to ensure that consultation and engagement is completed - and a final decision about the future of the ARU taken - by July 31.
The judge said she was ‘quite content’ to approve the last minute agreement.
The trust claims it has to cease services on safety grounds because it cannot recruit enough embryologists.
But council bosses argued that the trust failed in its duty to properly consult with the public about its plans and has sought to challenge the trust over the efforts it made to recruit.
A council spokesman said outside court: “The council is pleased with the outcome of today’s court hearing which enables the continuation of licensed fertility services in Hartlepool.
“We now look forward to participating fully in the hospital trust’s consultation exercise and encourage the wider community to engage in this process.
“The council’s aim is to explore all avenues to ensure that licensed fertility services can be maintained in the town.”
A statement from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: “The trust has reached agreement with Hartlepool Borough Council to enter into engagement and consultation with key stakeholders about the future of the assisted reproductive unit at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
“This agreement has been approved by the High Court, on substantially the same terms as proposed by the trust in February 2016.
“It is disappointing that the council felt the need to resort to litigation, which the trust feels was unnecessary and a waste of public funds. We look forward to working with key stakeholders about the future of the assisted reproduction unit.”
Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, who chairs the council’s Audit and Governance Committee, which scrutinizes health and other issues, said: “Clearly, I am delighted with the outcome at the High Court, which means that the Assisted Reproduction Unit will continue to provide licensed fertility services at Hartlepool’s Holdforth Road hospital.
“We sympathise fully with trust employees and patients who have suffered unnecessarily during the last three months and hopefully we can now find an acceptable solution.
“I am disappointed that the hospital trust has waited until the 11th hour to agree to our demands, which they had the opportunity to do weeks ago, and trust bosses should hang their heads in shame for forcing the council to take High Court action.
“The council now looks forward to open, transparent and meaningful consultation, which will explore all possible options to retain licensed fertility services in Hartlepool.”
Coun Martin-Wells said the court action showed the committee had “teeth”, which it was prepared to use.