The issue of Hartlepool’s hospital has been one which has dominated the town for many years.
It is fair to say, as I mentioned in my Hartlepool Mail column last week, that this month’s General Election in Hartlepool was essentially a referendum on the issue of the hospital.
I have taken the result on May 7 to mean that the people of Hartlepool want, expect and demand that I put this at the top of my priorities and to campaign in Westminster strongly and loudly for the return of hospital services. I promise to do this.
Over the last few years, a lot of rubbish and lies have been spun about the hospital by people putting forward their own political agendas.
The land at Holdforth Road has already been sold for housing – untrue.
I somehow “signed off” the closure of Accident & Emergency services. Complete lies.
Given that David Cameron’s Conservatives were in power when A&E closed, I fail to see how I could possibly be given executive responsibility to make that decision, and I categorically deny having made the decision to close any services at the Holdforth Road site.
I hope that in the aftermath of the General Election result, an opportunity can be sought to bring the town together in unity and consensus to bring hospital services back to Hartlepool.
I promise that I will fight for that both in Westminster, putting the case to Government Ministers, and locally, where I will make clear to local NHS bosses at the Trust the strength of feeling within the town and urge for them to listen to those concerns.
I’m not going to pretend that it will be easy. We have, after all, a Conservative majority government and as a Labour Member of Parliament I am in opposition.
The key part of having services return is not only about the hospital estate but crucially about making sure staffing levels and expertise are sufficient to cover the full return of services.
Given the pressures on the NHS budget and the difficulty in recruiting staff across the country, let alone the North East, this will be a major challenge.
The Labour Party made a pre-election commitment to an extra £2.5 billion that would have paid for extra doctors and nurses.
Advances in medical technology mean that people can be healthier and live for much longer and I want hospital services in Hartlepool to be delivered in a manner which recognises such developments.
I’m also not going to argue for anything which is clinically unsafe. I think that would be highly irresponsible and something which I would want no part of. However, other areas with smaller populations can have a full range of hospital services, including A&E, without compromising patient safety. I fail to see why that can’t be the model in Hartlepool.
I pledge again to work with the Clinical Commissioning Group, which buys NHS services on behalf of the local area, to ensure that we have an integrated healthcare system that prioritises clinical safety but which also recognises that a key priority for Hartlepool people is accessing services within the town.
I will also put pressure on health ministers in Parliament about the issue. I hope this issue can unite the town and that by being united the argument to return hospital services back to Hartlepool can be achieved.