Merger of Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services a step closer

Hartlepool Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.
Hartlepool Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

PLANS to merge Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services are set to move closer to reality when councillors meet next week.

The town’s coroner service is currently separate. But under the proposals would merge with Teesside which already covers Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton.

Town residents have again been assured it won’t adversely affect them, with inquests into deaths happening in Hartlepool continuing to be heard in town.

Councillors sitting on Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee have previously given their backing “in principle” to the changes.

Now they are set to meet again to agree to the merger and for the submission through Middlesbrough Borough Council of a business case to the Lord Chancellor.

A council report to Monday’s meeting said: “To allay the fears of Hartlepool residents, confirmation has been sought and it has been confirmed that Hartlepool residents will continue to have inquests held in Hartlepool, most probably by the existing Hartlepool Coroner.”

The report added: “The Lord Chancellor had initially responded to Middlesbrough Borough Council indicating his support to a merger of the Teesside and Hartlepool

Coroner areas, subject to consideration of a business case.”

Malcolm Donnelly, Hartlepool coroner is supportive, and has previously told the Mail it is inevitable, given the number of reported deaths in town has halved since the closure of the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool in August 2011.

Chief executive Dave Stubbs also believes it will lead to a better service for the area.

Mr Stubbs said: “There will be a bigger and better service. This is very positive and one that we should be supporting.”

The merger plans have come about following Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield’s retirement in April this year, after more than 40 years service.

Mr Sheffield, who was in his 80s, had come under heavy fire because of long delays in the time it was taking to complete inquests, including those families from Hartlepool who had relatives die in unusual circumstances at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

Mr Donnelly, who is helping to clear the backlog on Teesside, said previously that a merger was “inevitable” because the number of reported deaths is not sufficient for a separate coroner service.

In 2013, the number of reported deaths in Hartlepool was around 350 – roughly half of the number prior to the A&E closure. In comparison, Teesside has around 2,900 reported deaths a year.

The full cost of the Hartlepool coroner services for 2013-14 was £182,000, while the cost of the Teesside Coroner service was £962,488.

If the merger went ahead, it would save Hartlepool council around £30,000.

lThe finance and policy committee meets on Monday, August 18 at 9.30am.