A hospital leader has written to Hartlepool councillors to say it is willing to consult over threatened fertility services – but added he cannot promise they will not be axed.
Paul Garvin, chairman of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, wrote the letter after watching a video of a special council meeting on the issue last Friday.
Councillors, members of the public and MP Iain Wright criticised Mr Garvin and trust chief executive Alan Foster for not attending, sending medical director David Emerton to represent its position.
Licensed fertility services provided at Hartlepool hospital’s Assisted Reproduction Unit were due to end from March 31, but the trust says it is willing to extend the date as other options are considered.
In the letter addressed to Coun Ray Martin-Wells, chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee, Mr Garvin said the trust is not legally bound to consult on the proposed changes, as they are based on patient safety. He said only a joint committee, also involving Durham and Stockton councils can summon the trust to attend and make recommendations.
Mr Garvin said: “It is not the case that the chief executive or I are being difficult, but in the light of our experience of past consultations in Hartlepool we simply ask that the Audit and Governance Committee act within their powers and follow the legal process.
“Despite the fact that we are willing to consult the Joint Committee on an open-minded basis, we can not give you a cast-iron guarantee that we will not have to cease licensed treatments in the intervening period.”
He gave an example of a responsible person going sick which could cause the service to stop immediately, saying it was one problem with having a small service.
Mr Garvin added: “I had hoped that our position could have been clearly articulated but I fear that it was not, so I wanted to set the record straight so that hopefully we can move forward in the interest of all our patients.”
Coun Martin-Wells called the contents of the letter “contrary” adding: “If they want to come along and give their opinion then they just simply need to turn up.”
A joint meeting to which Durham and Stockton councils have been invited will be held on a date to be fixed.
Hartlepool council is to take legal action to try to stop the fertility service changes from going ahead.