High Court judge halts fertility unit closure plan

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

A High Court judge has ordered a hospital trust to postpone the closure of a fertility unit in the town.

The judge has ordered North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust not to close licensed fertility services at the University Hospital of Hartlepool until a hearing takes place in the High Court on April 5.

Trust bosses announced in January they would no longer provide the treatment, including IVF, following a comprehensive review of the service provided at the town hospital’s assisted reproduction unit.

But, Hartlepool Borough Council sought an injunction to stop the closure at the end of March this year following a meeting of the authority’s audit and governance committee on February 26.

Hospital trust chief executive, Alan Foster, and chairman, Paul Garvin, did not turn up at the meeting to explain the reasons for the imminent closure and instead the trust was represented by the medical director and a legal representative.

The Trust says it has to cease services on safety grounds because it cannot recruit enough embryologists.

But, these claims have been questioned by a leading fertility expert, the town’s MP Iain Wright, the Royal College of Nursing and trade unions.

Hartlepool councillors have raised their concerns about the lack of any meaningful consultation by the Trust about the planned closure and redundancy notices have already been issued to staff.

Speaking today, Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, chairman of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee, said: “I am pleased that a High Court judge has intervened to prevent the planned closure of the unit at the end of March.

“We have been notified by the High Court that there will be a hearing on April 4 and the hospital trust cannot therefore implement closure before then.

“As a council, we are simply not prepared to allow the trust to ride roughshod over the people of this town.”

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of the council, said: “Trust bosses had the opportunity to enter into dialogue with the council and the people of this town on two occasions to explain the rationale for the closure but both times they declined.

“There is a massive strength of feeling throughout the town about the migration of services from the town’s hospital and we will challenge this all the way.”

At the council meeting in February, Mr Wright said it was “utterly contemptuous” and “a disgrace” that Mr Foster and Mr Garvin from the trust had not attended.

A Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, involving Stockton and Durham councils, has been arranged for tomorrow at 10am at Hartlepool Civic Centre, followed immediately after by a meeting of the authority’s Audit and Governance Committee immediately after.

Trust bosses have been invited to attend.

The trust has not commented on the High Court move despite being approached by the Mail.