Mayor - Work with the public

THE long-awaited extraordinary council meeting and public meeting about the hospital situation took place last week and was extremely well attended.

The chairman and chief executive of NHS Hartlepool, formerly Hartlepool Primary Care Trust, were both in attendance to answer questions from the public and from councillors.

Disappointingly, the chairman of the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust had already informed the council that he was not willing to send any of his staff or board members to what he described as a modern day version of the stocks.

This did mean that some of the questions posed on the night went unanswered.

Although the representatives from NHS Hartlepool did well to provide answers where they could, it would have been preferable to have had all of the decision-makers at the meeting to clarify some of the reasoning behind their decisions.

NHS Hartlepool is the strategic commissioner of health services in the town.

They hold the purse strings and they decide which services to fund.

With regards to the closure of the A&E department at the hospital, the explanations given on the night were about unclogging services so that patients could be seen more quickly and by the right people and that One Life Hartlepool was set up specifically to deal with minor injuries.

Also that the hospital could not attract enough experienced A&E doctors and it was in danger of being deemed unsafe by the Quality Care Commission (QCC).

I am happy to accept these reasons, coming from health care experts, are valid and intended to provide the town with better, more appropriate services.

I’m also willing to accept that it is the best intention of everyone working for the health service to improve the quality of services in the town through these changes.

What I’m not willing to accept however, are the people of Hartlepool ending up with a worse level of health services than before, despite best intentions.

It has been seven or eight weeks since the closure of the A&E department and it appears that the changes are not working.

I believe the reason they are not working is because the communication and public relations from the NHS has been dreadful.

People are confused as to where to go if they have a problem and this confusion, quite understandably, causes fear and a lack of confidence in the health service.

The public’s fears are not being addressed and allayed adequately and in some cases, almost having to diagnose their own ailments properly before they know where to go to get treatment.

The changes and the new systems simply cannot work properly if the public don’t understand the changes or what is required of them – and until they do, it goes without saying, that the changes to the services are not an improvement.

Many people have told me that they have received a first class service at One Life Hartlepool and I’ve no reason to doubt that it is a great service to treat minor injuries and better than we had before.

The problem lies in the fact that the general public is struggling to differentiate what constitutes a minor injury and what is classified as something more serious, and then what they have to do next.

I was in the same boat myself a couple of weeks ago despite having the changes explained to me a number of times.

At the meeting, it was stated that the closure of A&E was not down to financial reasons and the original plan was to have One Life Hartlepool operating alongside the A&E department.

This prompted me to ask the strategic commissioners to reconsider and reverse their decision on the closure of A&E as these changes are not working.

The answer given was that the QCC would close down the department immediately if it was re-opened. I’m afraid I don’t accept this.

If it was opened as a carbon copy of the way it was previously run, then fine, it would probably be deemed unsafe.

It would obviously need to be fit for purpose and if finances are not an issue, then there should be no reason why the money cannot be paid to attract the experienced doctors necessary to run a quality service.

As I said a few weeks ago, I absolutely support the drive towards Hartlepool getting a new hospital but, between now and then, the hospital trust needs to ensure that Hartlepool and its residents get the health services they deserve.

It is not acceptable that, in the meantime, our services are stripped out and we are left with the bare bones because I don’t see a plan B.

If, for some reason the new hospital doesn’t come off, it is impossible to see how a hospital as we know it can be sustained in the future.

That said, I still have every confidence that we will get the new hospital and I also have every confidence in the board and management of the hospital trust to deliver one.

I supported the motion of no confidence in the board at last week’s council meeting simply because I believe the general public has lost confidence in the local NHS.

I represent the public of Hartlepool and the message is very clear that people are confused, scared and angry at these changes.

The refusal to attend the public meeting and show some accountability while trying to win back some of that public confidence, was, in my view, unacceptable.

The board itself is made up of a range of people for whom I have the utmost respect and confidence in and they have my unequivocal support.

The decision not to attend the meeting was ill thought out and only served to create more confusion and anger among the public and that cannot be condoned in the circumstances.

I think the hospital trust now has an enormous task of winning back some of this public confidence and need to do a lot of work in explaining what these short-term changes mean as well as selling their long-term vision to the public.

I actually believe that their long-term vision for health care in Hartlepool is the right one. But it is absolutely imperative that the town and its residents do not suffer a much reduced level of services in order to fulfil that vision.

In order for any of it to work, however, both the hospital trust and NHS Hartlepool need to work with the public and their local representatives every step of the way.