Operations could be done outside Tees area in latest Hartlepool hospital twist

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

HARTLEPOOL Borough Council is to enter talks with other health trusts to provide patient services in the latest twist in the hospital saga.

Councillors say they will explore “all options” of working with other hospital trusts in the region to help direct patients to the best care and treatment.

The move, proposed by council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, is in response to a recommendation that hospital chiefs transfer all remaining emergency care from the University Hospital of Hartlepool to North Tees hospital in Stockton.

It is after an independent review by the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) found that critical care services at the Holdforth Road site are not sustainable.

Coun Akers-Belcher said the wishes of the council and residents had repeatedly been ignored by hospital bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

He cited more and more services being taken away from the town’s hospital including the closure of the A&E department in 2011.

Coun Akers-Belcher made the proposal to work with other trusts at a meeting of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee.

The move would not affect where emergencies are taken to, but it could see the council steer patients to hospitals other than North Tees for treatment like hip replacement operations.

Community-based health services like chronic lung disease support and stop smoking sessions might also be provided locally by other health trusts.

Council Akers-Belcher also said the council should review its transport agreement with the North Tees and Hartlepool trust where it helps finance buses to get patients from Hartlepool to the North Tees site.

He said: “I feel the trust collectively with the clinical commissioning group have used NCAT as a vehicle in order to move services out of Hartlepool.

“They have made no regard for travelling times. They seem hell-bent on transferring services from Hartlepool.

“They have broken their pledge to retain a sustainable hospital in Hartlepool.

“We are entitled to have our fair share of services.

“Why would we want to work with a trust that doesn’t care about what we want in Hartlepool?”

The committee supported the proposal that the council explores working with other trusts such as South Tees, Darlington and Durham, through its Health and Wellbeing Board.

He added: “So when we are formulating our commissioning intentions we are considering all possible options and this may mean pooling resources with an alternative hospital trust that does listen to the people of Hartlepool and is responsive to our aspirations for locally delivered services accessible by all.”

Coun Keith Fisher, chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee, said: “These people are simply ignoring us.

“What Councillor Akers-Belcher is proposing is a fundamental change but it could be very effective.”

A SPOKESMAN for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: “The proposals to centralise critical and emergency medical care at the University Hospital of North Tees are to ensure we can continue to provide the highest standards of care for critically ill people in the lead up to the new hospital.

“Our doctors have told us this move is necessary to allow them and our nursing and therapy teams to meet the standards we all expect and deserve.

“People in our area have known for a long time that we cannot continue to provide hospital based services on two existing sites. This is because of changes in the way doctors are trained, difficulties in retaining and recruiting the highly skilled staff needed to provide these services and advances in medicine which mean services need to be concentrated in one place.

“Of course people would like all healthcare on their doorstep, and under the proposals, 97 per cent of health contacts would continue to take place in Hartlepool.

“With new technologies such as telehealth our highly skilled community staff can support people at home and often prevent them needing to come into hospital.

“However, when people do become seriously ill our doctors, who are committed to providing the very best healthcare possible for everyone we serve, say they will be able to maintain and improve services if all of these patients are looked after in one place.

“We are very disappointed about the delays in building the new hospital because a new facility built on the A19 and A689 with much improved transport links is the best solution for everyone living in the area we serve. We are determined to bring the new hospital to the area and we are doing everything we can to make this a reality.

“For planned operations people can and do choose where they go for their care and we would support the right of patients to do this.

“However, for emergency care the ambulance service arrive on scene and, using agreed procedures, takes the patient to the right team of experts who can give them the most appropriate care.

“During the 12 weeks of the consultation on these proposals there will be many opportunities for people to give their views.

“We are listening and we do want to take people’s views into consideration on this very important issue.”

HEALTH chiefs faced a grilling from councillors over the proposals to transfer all remaining emergency care from Hartlepool hospital at the meeting.

Members of Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group and the hospital trust presented the reasons behind the plans to the council’s Audit and Governance Committee.

Councillor Jonathan Brash questioned the competency of trust executives and asked why problems with the sustainability of the critical care at Hartlepool hospital was not picked up by them before the NCAT review.

“There seems to me a distinct lack of strategic leadership on this issue,” he said.

Paul Garvin, chairman of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, admitted it had been an “emerging problem” and said they would not have been looking at transferring the service if the Wynyard hospital scheme had not run into delays.

Mr Garvin said: “As the new hospital has drifted on, we are now looking at 2017, that situation is no longer sustainable.

“The bottom line is NCAT says there is extreme concern about going into another winter with seriously ill patients in the current configuration.”

He also denied suggestions from Councillor Rob Cook that a lack of investment in Hartlepool hospital was to blame.

Mr Garvin said: “Often, less than half the high dependency beds at Hartlepool are occupied.

“That’s not enough for the clinicians to be able to keep their skills up.

“We would love it to stay as it is. The decisions we have made as a board haven’t been about money.

“It has always been about what’s best for the patients and how can we meet the new clinical standards.”

Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher pressed the health team if they would listen to people’s objections to the move during the consultation or if the move was already decided.

Ali Wilson, chief officer of the clinical commissioning group, said they would listen and weigh up all the information before making a decision that was in people’s best interests.

But she added: “I cannot and won’t say I will just do what someone wants at the risk of somebody potentially dying.”

Coun Keith Fisher was not convinced and said: “The evidence before us is you certainly do hear what we say - but then you do what you were going to do in the first place.”