IAIN WRIGHT: Questions remain after ‘deeply disappointing’ news over fertility services in Hartlepool

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

Earlier this month the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust announced that it would close its IVF and Fertility Unit at the Assisted Reproduction Unit at Hartlepool Hospital by the end of March.

This is deeply disappointing news. For couples in Hartlepool who are suffering the trauma of not being able to have a baby, the closure of the unit and the prospect of travelling still further for any treatment which cause greater anguish.

There is a wider point to the closure too. The whole town is familiar with the movement of services away from Hartlepool to North Tees or even further afield.

This is a further example of services being closed or moved away from town, which undermines still further the future viability of the local hospital at Holdforth Road.

Now that the proposed new hospital at Wynyard will no longer go ahead, I have frequently stated that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust should remember that it provides – or should provide – an NHS acute service based upon two hospitals.

Given that Wynyard is not going ahead, there has to be a concerted effort by the local Trust to return services to Hartlepool.

The decision to close down the fertility service has been put down to the fact that the Trust has been unable, in its own words, “to recruit enough embryologists to continue to provide the current service safely”.

The Trust went on to state that: “We have made every effort for some time to recruit, however we cannot continue to provide all aspects of the current service safely due to an inability to recruit embryologists.”

However, these statements have raised more questions. The trade unions Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have raised concerns over the effort actually made in order to try to recruit the required staff. There are troubling questions as to the extent and thoroughness of the recruitment process. The Royal College of Nursing allege that the post was successful in being recruited as recently as May 2015, so it seems odd that only seven or eight months later there seemed to be such a problem in recruiting.

I have sent a letter to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust, asking for clarity on matters such as the staffing level and mix, in terms of embryologists, nursing staff and others, that is required in order to allow the Trust to continue with the present service at the Assisted Reproduction Unit in Hartlepool.

I have also asked what the current staffing gap is and how it could be filled, as well as seeking clarity as to what the recruitment process actually was.

I asked the Chief Executive in terms of specific publications and websites the Trust used for the recruitment process and how long the advertisements were in place. I have also suggested that the whole process of closure be at least put on hold until such clarity is provided.

As I write this, the Trust has not replied to my letter. However, there is an opportunity to question senior management at Hartlepool Borough Council tomorrow afternoon.

I hope the Trust can provide such clarity and respond to concerns from the entire town that this is yet another example of services being removed from Hartlepool when, with some degree of management attention and will, they could have stayed.