Councillors refuse to refer stripping of Hartlepool hospital services to Health Secretary

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

COUNCILLORS have voted against a proposal to refer the decision to transfer all remaining emergency and critical care services out of town to the Health Secretary – despite claims the changes were a “done deal” before the consultation had started.

The majority of councillors opted against referring the decision to Jeremy Hunt at last night’s full council meeting amid concerns Hartlepool Borough Council did not 
have sufficient grounds to do so.

From next month North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust will close four emergency medical wards at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, with a total of 135 beds removed and 200 jobs affected.

Hartlepool’s critical care unit, which includes two intensive care beds and two high-dependency beds, are also to be relocated to the University Hospital of North Tees.

During the meeting, independent councillor Keith Fisher revealed he had received a phone call from a town GP yesterday afternoon.

He said the GP claimed doctors had been told back in May that the changes were a “done deal” before the 
public consultation had even started.

But not enough councillors supported the referral calls and they were rejected by a majority of nearly 2-1.

Instead members agreed to write to Mr Hunt to express their disappointment at the changes, look to work with other health trusts and called on the trust to delay the changes until transport plans have been put in place and are shown to be working.

Councillor Jonathan Brash said a referral was the council’s “one true power” and would shine a “spotlight” on the issue.

But Peter Devlin, the council’s chief solicitor, said a referral would have to match certain criteria which he didn’t believe it did because there was strong clinical evidence for the change and he said the consultation was extensive.

Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “I don’t feel that we have the grounds to refer it to the Secretary of State.”

Members then voted on the referral proposal, put forward by independent councillor Paul Thompson.

But just nine councillors backed it.

They were Coun Brash and Thompson, independent councillors Fisher and John Lauderdale, Putting Hartlepool First councillors Kelly Atkinson, Steve Gibbon 
and Keith Dawkins, Conservative councillor Brenda Loynes 
and Labour’s Paul Beck – 
with 16 councillors voting against the motions and no abstentions.

After the vote, Coun Brash said those against had “collectively lost their minds”.

Coun Thompson was so annoyed he left the meeting and afterwards he said those that didn’t back the motion had “effectively handed over 
services to North Tees on a plate”.

The decision to transfer services was taken earlier this week by the Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG.

A spokeswoman has previously said there was a “robust” 12-week public consultation and that all opinions were considered before a decision was taken.

Health chiefs said the changes are necessary because of “significant” concerns and again stressed that, while the current service is safe, it is not sustainable 
due to rising national standards.