Hospital chiefs have been summoned to appear before councillors to explain themselves after the shock decision to axe a vital fertility service at Hartlepool’s hospital.
A council meeting has been called for Friday, February 5, for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to explain why it has decided to cut licensed fertility treatment, including IVF, after March from the Holdforth Road site.
Unless they can come up with an acceptable rationale, I’ll be recommending as Chair that we refer the matter to the Secretary of State for HealthCoun Ray Martin-Wells
And a pioneering former consultant, who helped to launch the service and put Hartlepool on the “medical map”, has spoken about his sadness at the decision.
Mohammed Menabawey, who lives in Hartlepool, helped to establish the original clinic in the late 1980s when members of the public raised thousands of pounds to help buy the first equipment.
Angry senior councillors have ordered hospital bosses to explain the decision before a meeting of council’s Audit and Governance Committee, the scrutiny arm of the authority.
Its chairman Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, said: “I have summoned the Trust – a statutory power the Audit and Governance Committee has as the scrutiny arm of the council – to explain this shock decision and unless they can come up with an acceptable rationale, I’ll be recommending as chair that we refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Health.
“This news is particularly disappointing as we’ve just been working with the hospital trust to find a way to avert the imminent closure of specialist neo-natal services at North Tees.”
Coun Martin-Wells added: “At the meeting we’ll be asking the hospital trust for a full explanation as to how they arrived at this decision.
“As a council we are working really hard to bring services back to the University Hospital of Hartlepool and this decision goes completely against the wishes of local people.”
The trust has said the decision was taken following a comprehensive review of Harlepool’s assisted reproduction unit, which has been unable to recruit enough embryologists to continue to provide the current service safely.
Dr Menabawey, 69, who left the fertility clinic at the end of 2007 and is now retired from the medical profession, told the Mail: “It is very, very sad. We actually put Hartlepool on the medical map.
“The first IVF baby in the country, Louise Brown, was born in 1978. Eleven years later we delivered our first in Hartlepool.
“The clinic was only the 31st established in the country. It was established by the efforts of the townspeople.
“We raised thousands of pounds to buy equipment from the lab and put a deposit on the first incubator to put the embryos in it. We walked around the pubs in fancy dress with buckets.”
Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of the council, said earlier this week that the announcement had come “out of the blue”.
He said: “Hartlepool council is vehemently opposed to the ceasing of any services from the University Hospital of Hartlepool and we will be fighting this all of the way.
“The announcement has come completely out of the blue and we feel badly let down by the lack of consultation.”
The trust’s decision means that licensed fertility treatments will no longer be provided but some general infertility treatments will still be provided.
The council meeting on February 5 is due to start at 2.30pm and members of the public are welcome.
Medical director David Emerton said the decision was not a reflection of the quality of the service and added the trust has made every effort for some time to recruit but could not continue to provide all aspects of the current service safely due to the recruitment problems.