Meeting branded ‘a farce’

WAITING FOR THE MEETING: The queue outside the civic centre last night
WAITING FOR THE MEETING: The queue outside the civic centre last night

A CRUNCH meeting to discuss controversial changes to health services in Hartlepool was postponed after dozens of residents were denied access.

The extraordinary meeting of the full council was due to take place last night, but councillors voted to adjourn the discussion due to the high turn-out.

The meeting has been described as a “farce” by hospital campaigner, Councillor Geoff Lilley, who has asked a number of questions about how the meeting was organised.

There were angry scenes inside the reception area of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, as about 60 people were told Hartlepool Borough Council’s meeting chamber was full.

Ahead of the meeting, officials had warned residents that the public gallery only held 60 people and the seats quickly filled once the doors opened at 6.30pm.

That left dozens of angry residents remonstrating with officials inside the foyer.

The meeting was called after the closure of the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool on August 2 sparked anger in town.

The service was declared unfit for purpose after an independent review back in March.

Instead, patients in need of emergency attention are now being dealt with at the £20m One Life Hartlepool, in Park Road.

Last night’s meeting started at 7pm, but it was adjourned minutes later by chairman of the council, Labour Councillor Carl Richardson.

Coun Richardson, who had earlier spoken to residents in the foyer, said: “There are a number of people outside.

“I think it is necessary that we adjourn the meeting so that we can find a bigger venue.”

Councillors voted in favour and asked that it be rearranged as quickly as possible.

The meeting is expected to be held at either the Town Hall or the Borough Hall, on the Headland, within the next three weeks.

Campaigners say council bosses should have known the chamber was an unsuitable venue.

Independent councillor Geoff Lilley added that he was disappointed it had taken so long for the meeting to be held after originally calling for it four weeks ago.

Speaking afterwards he said the longer it took to rearrange would “weaken” the calls for a review of the A&E decision to be put to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Coun Lilley said last night: “After the farce of this evening I believe there are a number of questions the people who had taken the time to attend have a right to ask.

“Who took the decision to limit public capacity to 60 individuals? On what grounds was that decision taken? When will the reconvened meeting be held? Is there any restriction as to the day of the week or the time of day for an extraordinary meeting?”

Councillor Edna Wright had registered a motion for a vote of no confidence in the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust at the meeting, which was due to be videoed in the interest of public safety.

Coun Wright said: “I am disappointed it had to be called off, but bearing in mind the people left outside, there was no alternative.”

Keith Fisher, chairman of the Save Our Hospital group, said: “I was delighted with the turn-out.

“I would call for an even bigger turn-out next time; if it is at the Borough Hall then let’s fill that. The numbers speak for themselves.”

Officers from Hartlepool Police attended and confirmed that around 60 members of the public were turned away.