THE long-running saga over Hartlepool’s hospital services has taken another sensational twist.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has agreed to a meeting with town MP Iain Wright to “discuss the growing uncertainty about the future of Hartlepool’s hospital”.
The news was greeted by Mr Wright who said: “I believe the weight of voices for a return of services to Hartlepool has been heard.”
The latest twist comes just weeks after Mr Hunt rejected the chance to attend a meeting to discuss concerns over hospital services in Hartlepool.
On January 7, Mr Hunt said: “I do not consider a meeting with me at this time would be helpful. Whilst I appreciate that this may be a disappointing reply, I hope it clarifies our position on the matter.”
But now Mr Hunt’s office has emailed Mr Wright to say: “Following the issues you raised at Business Questions last Thursday, the Rt Hon gentleman Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, is happy to meet with you to discuss the growing uncertainty about the future of Hartlepool’s hospital.”
Mr Wright said the meeting was not a political move - it was a cross-party issue about the people of the town.
He added: “We want to make sure the people of Hartlepool are represented and their feelings are known.”
Hartlepool’s hospital services have been at the centre of dispute for months. A letter signed by council chief executive Dave Stubbs, ceremonial mayor Stephen Akers-Belcher and all of the councillors was sent to Whitehall just days after a heated public meeting at the Town Hall Theatre heard from health bosses that there was “no chance” of services being brought back to Hartlepool.
Throughout all of this, the Hartlepool Mail has run its Bring Them Back campaign which saw 12,000 people sign a petition calling for the return of hospital services to the town.
Mr Wright said that, now that the meeting had been agreed to with Mr Hunt, he wanted a cross party delegation to be involved. He said he had used his voice in Parliamentary to put pressure on the Secretary of State.
He added: “It is important that the whole town is involved in this meeting and that is why I am going to invite a delegation of councillors who passed a resolution of a return of services. I think we have a case and we can put our case.”
The Mail launched the Bring Them Back campaign in an attempt to put pressure on North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust to bring services back to the hospital at Holdforth Road after plans for a new £300m facility at Wynyard were shelved.
Bosses at the Trust admitted it was shelving plans at Wynyard until after the General Election after being left frustrated by a series of delays and wranglings over how the facility would be funded.
Mr Wright said North Tees was not suitable for a single site hospital and, after the announcement on the new hospital was delayed, the case was clear that services should be returned back to Hartlepool.
He added: “I believe the case for a return of services is a compelling one.”
He said he hoped that the meeting with Mr Hunt would take place in the next couple of weeks.
A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed to the Hartlepool Mail that a meeting is being arranged for Mr Wright, but the date hasn’t been finalised yet.