Health expert says ‘plan will pay off’ for Hartlepool hospital campaigners

Lord Darzi
Lord Darzi

A HEALTH expert who a decade ago recommended Hartlepool’s hospital should remain open has praised efforts to return services to town.

Professor Lord Ara Darzi who chaired a Teeswide Acute Services Review in 2005 was asked by Hartlepool Borough Council to be the independent chair of a new Local Health Plan working group.

The University Hospital of Hartlepool

The University Hospital of Hartlepool

Lord Darzi, one of the world’s leading surgeons, said in a letter to Ceremonial Mayor Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher he could not do so due to his work commitments.

But he went on to say he was confident the health plan would result in better services for Hartlepool residents.

Lord Darzi said: “It is both a great honour and a great complement to be asked to Chair the Hartlepool Local Health Plan.

“Upon reading your letter and from my personal observations in the years since my earlier review, it is clear that numerous challenges persist for the local healthcare system across Hartlepool and Teesside.

Local Health Plan ... will undoubtedly result in a much-improved service

Professor Lord Ari Darzi

“That said, your commitment to drive a positive agenda and to develop this important Local Health Plan is testament to your vision for quality improvement and will undoubtedly result in a much-improved service for your constituents.

“On this occasion, I will regrettably be unable to support this project in a capacity as Independent Chair, given the significant demands I find upon my shoulders at this time.

“I wish you well and very much look forward to seeing the outcome and fruits of your worthy efforts.”

Councillors agreed to ask Lord Darzi to head the process at a recent extraordinary council meeting when it was decided to form the health plan.

It followed a meeting in London between a delegation of councillors and the Hartlepool MP Iain Wright with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to express their severe concerns over local hospital services.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who wrote to Lord Darzi on behalf of all councillors, said: “I fully understand the reasons why Lord Darzi cannot commit to this role but I would like to thank him for giving consideration to the invitation and for replying so promptly.

“It is, however, extremely heartening that Lord Darzi feels that we can bring about improved services for local people and we will not give up in our endeavour to do so.

“The people of Hartlepool have made their views very clear indeed.

“They want hospital services on their doorstep and do not want to travel out of town to access vital services including A&E.

“We’ll continue our search for an independent chair so that the council can press ahead with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and develop a Local Health Plan which meets residents’ needs.”

Independent Coun Jonathan Brash who proposed approaching Lord Darzi said: “I’m obviously disappointed Lord Darzi can’t be involved, nevertheless I hope we can find someone of similar standing to lead this extraordinary important process for the town.

“We need the best possible health plan developed for all the right reasons and I think the best way to do that is to have an independent expert lead in the process.”

In his letter, Lord Darzi also said he believed many recommendations for better health care he proposed for London could work nationwide including in Hartlepool.

They included patients working with professionals to help change the system.

Lord Darzi said in the Better Health For London study: “The best work on improving the health and care system happens when people who use the services are embedded throughout the design of those improvements.

“Experience has demonstrated that so-called ‘lay partners’ can positively contribute to this.”

In November, councillors passed a vote of no confidence in North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust requesting that the entire board stands down.

It was after plans to build a £300 million hospital at Wynyard were put on hold by the Trust, reigniting anger at the previous removal of Hartlepool’s accident and emergency department and critical care services.

The earlier report by Lord Darzi into health provision on Teesside recommended that the North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals should be kept open and improvements should be made to the existing services at the two sites.

He recommended that the University Hospital of Hartlepool should become a consultant-led centre of excellence for maternity and paediatric care, while the University Hospital of North Tees specialised in emergency care.

The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said there was “no question” that Hartlepool hospital would close.

The letter

From: Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham PC, KBE, FMedSci, HonFREng

To: Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher

Ceremonial Mayor

Civic Centre

Hartlepool

TS24 8AY

Dear Councillor Stephen,

It is both a great honour and a great complement to be asked to chair the Hartlepool Local Health Plan and I am grateful to you and your fellow council members for your kind words and consideration.

Upon reading your letter and from my personal observations in the years since my earlier review, it is clear that numerous challenges persist for the local healthcare system across Hartlepool and Teesside.

That said, your commitment to drive a positive agenda and to develop this important Local Health Plan is testament to your vision for quality improvement and will undoubtedly result in a much improved service to your constituents.

On this occasion, I will regrettably be unable to support this project in a capacity as Independent Chair, given the significant demands I find upon my shoulders at Imperial [College London] and suggest that you might look to the recent publication of the Commission I chaired in London for Mayor Boris Johnson ‘Better Health for London’.

Our report championed both the value of integrating health and social care services and the significant impact of targeted public health measures to support a preventative health agenda for population groups.

Although London focussed, I have no doubt that the underlying principals and recommendations that we determined in our report could be transformational in regions across the United Kingdom – Hartlepool very much included.

Once again, please accept my apologies that I am unable to support you and your fellow colleagues on this occasion.

I wish you well and very much look forward to seeing the outcome and fruits of your worthy efforts.

Warm wishes,

Ara