Hospital chiefs slammed after failing to attend meeting on planned fertility unit closure

Hospital bosses were criticised for failing to attend a meeting which they requested to answer questions around the planned closure of Hartlepool's fertility unit.

Wednesday, 16th March 2016, 5:00 am
Peter Devlin Chief Solicitor (left) and Councillor Ray Martin-Wells chairman for the Fertility closure meeting held in the Civic Centre, Hartlepool Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool Borough Council organised yesterday’s joint scrutiny meeting when councillors planned to fire questions to North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust over the trust’s intention to axe licensed treatment, such as IVF, from the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

The move has been blamed on an inability to recruit embryologists to continue to run the service safely.

Empty seating at the Fertility closure meeting held in the Civic Centre, Hartlepool Picture by FRANK REID

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But no one from the trust attended, saying it would be inappropriate after the council launched legal action in the High Court, which led to a judge ordering the trust to postpone the closure of the Assisted Reproduction Unit.

It was the third successive meeting on the issue that senior leaders of the trust have not attended.

Medical director David Emerton attended a second meeting of Hartlepool council’s Audit and Governance Committee on February 26 but did not answer detailed questions, saying a Joint Scrutiny Committee was the route to take to include Durham and Stockton councils.

A letter from the trust’s legal representatives said its attendance could be seen as ‘a step to facilitate the closure’ of the ARU against the interim court order.

Empty seating at the Fertility closure meeting held in the Civic Centre, Hartlepool Picture by FRANK REID

It added: “No disrespect to the committee is intended, and we appreciate that it was the trust which indicated that establishing this committee was appropriate.

“However the situation has now changed, with the issue of the claim and then receipt of the attached order.”

Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, who chaired the meeting, said: “I don’t think there’s anything I can say which would confirm my disgust and contempt for the way that the trust have dealt with the people of Hartlepool.”

An independent review of the threatened fertility service will take place led by commissioners, who pay for health services, and the NHS Northern England Clinical Senate.

Ali Wilson, chief officer of Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the review would establish if the service is safe and what would be needed for it to continue in the long term. She gave an assurance funding was in place.

Coun Martin-Wells said the CCG should look for other providers of services in Hartlepool apart from the trust, adding: “There are other interested parties who are prepared to run this service.”

Coun Rob Cook asked why other providers had not been looked at when other services were moved from Hartlepool hospital such as accident and emergency.

He said: “We have got a hospital that is fit for purpose and we have got a hospital at North Tees that isn’t.”

Coun Martin-Wells said in the past the council had to rely on evidence put forward by the trust.

But following the input of Dr Mohamed Menabawey, who helped found the fertility service in Hartlepool, the committee feels able to challenge the trust.

Dr Menabawey questioned the aim of the clinical senate review. He said: “The fact you have a smaller service does not mean it’s unsustainable.”

A range of proposed actions, including referring the matter to the Secretary of State, are due to go to tomorrow night’s full council meeting.

The High Court is next due to consider the issue on April 5.

Questions for trust

Hartlepool councillors will have an opportunity to question hospital trust bosses tomorrow on a recent inspection report which concluded the trust “requires improvement”.

Civic leaders are hoping that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust chiefs will attend the meeting after failing to appear at three recent meetings to discuss the planned closure of licensed fertility services at the town’s hospital in Holdforth Road.

The meeting of the council’s Audit & Governance Committee will consider the recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report is scheduled to start at 10am in the Civic Centre and the public are welcome to attend.

Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee, said it is hoped that bosses will explain the rating and then councillors and members of the public will have the chnce to ask questions.

He said: “The recent Care Quality Commission inspection report is very worrying as it deemed the overall performance of the hospital trust to “require improvement”. 
“We will give the trust the opportunity to respond to the CQC report and then councillors and members of the public will have the chance to put questions to them. I am sure there will be lots of searching questions for the trust and I am looking forward to the debate.”

When the CQC report was published last month, Councillor Martin-Wells commented: “There is a common thread running through this report which questions the leadership of the hospital trust and this leads me to question whether the trust has the ability to deliver the quality hospital and health care services we expect on a day-to-day basis.”

The meeting comes at the same time as Hartlepool Borough Council has commenced legal action against the hospital trust to prevent the closure of licensed fertility services at the University Hospital of Hartlepool at the end of March.

Doors open for the meeting at 9.30am and seats will be available on a ‘first -come, first- served’ basis.

Union anger

Union bosses have slammed redundancy meetings at the University Hospital of Hartlepool fertility unit.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern region criticised North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust for continuing to undertake one-to-one redundancy meetings with staff at the University Hospital of Hartlepool fertility unit, despite being ordered by the high court to halt the closure of the service.

Greg Canning, the RCN’s senior officer for Hartlepool, said: “By continuing to undertake one-to-one meetings between management and staff at the hospital, the trust is destabilising the unit.

“Staff will understandably feel that the trust management are going to try to close this unit regardless of the court order, and will start looking for jobs elsewhere.

“So the issue of understaffing will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

“We believe the trust could have recruited a new embryologist if they had made a proper effort, but now the whole team is being undermined by pursuing one-to-one meetings.

“We’ve seen no financial evidence to support the reasons for this closure, and it’s a high quality service that should be enhanced, not cut. For the broader NHS, it’s death by a thousand cuts.”

The Mail revealed on Monday that a judge has ordered the 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.