A GOVERNMENT minister has delivered a snub to the people of Hartlepool after turning down the chance to hear about the long-running hospital saga.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked by Hartlepool Borough Council to attend a meeting with civic representatives to hear concerns over the transfer of key services to Stockton and the succession of delays for a proposed new hospital at Wynyard.
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.
The letter, which also made Mr Hunt aware of the 12,000 people who signed the Mail’s Bring Them Back petition, invited the minister to Hartlepool but also gave him the option of meeting a delegation from the council in London.
But in a response sent to civic chiefs, Mr Hunt has rejected the chance for a meeting after claiming it would not be “helpful” and also pointed out that the correspondence did not make it clear whether the council wanted to formally refer the case through legal channels.
Meetings are now taking place at the Civic Centre to discuss a reply in the hope of persuading Mr Hunt to perform a U-turn.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has also intervened by submitting an urgent parliamentary question, also demanding a meeting, which is due to be responded to tomorrow.
Mr Hunt’s letter, which is printed in full opposite, said: “I have noted the concerns you have raised on behalf of the council and I appreciate that the configuration of health services in Hartlepool communities to be an issue of great concern.
“The Trust’s decision to ‘pause’ work on the scheme (to build a new hospital at Wynyard) was taken by the Trust alone.
“The Department remains in contact with the Trust, and has written to it to explain the further financial analysis necessary to progress the approval decision.
“I appreciate that this further delay, to a scheme that has already been several years in development, has caused some to question the potential outcome of the scheme.
“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.”
Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher said: “It is hugely disappointing that the Health Minister is not prepared to have a meeting.
“Our aim is to convey the incredible strength of feeling throughout the town over the continuing downgrading of the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the overwhelming desire to bring back services transferred to North Tees.
“I know Mr Hunt will be a busy man but we are only seeking an hour of his time and are prepared to meet him at any location and at his convenience.
“Hospital services are by far the biggest single concern among local residents and I will be writing to Mr Hunt asking him to re-consider the request.”
Mr Wright described Mr Hunt’s response as a snub to the town.
He said: “I think this is a snub from the Health Secretary to Hartlepool Borough Council and its elected representatives but more importantly to the 12,000 people who signed the Mail’s Bring Them Back petition.
“It is not the first snub this government has made to the town, but it is hugely important.”
Mr Wright has submitted an urgent parliamentary question on Monday seeking a meeting between him, the minister and council representatives to talk about bringing services back to Hartlepool’s hospital.
The council has written a second letter to Mr Hunt asking for the issue to be formally referred.
In the letter the council aims to use its legal powers to officially ask the Secretary of State to look into the actions of the hospital trust.