MP WRITES: The ball is back in our court over Hartlepool hospital

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

On Tuesday, the meeting with Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health took place to discuss the future of hospital services in Hartlepool.

The meeting had been a long time coming. The Secretary of State had said no on several occasions but then thankfully changed his mind. I was pleased that a cross-party delegation of councillors attended and also left our political differences at the door.

The Secretary of State promised to contact Monitor, the regulator which assesses Foundation Trusts, to see what can be done.

I have to say, and I hope the councillors who attended the meeting would back me up with this assessment, that the meeting was very positive, pro-active and pointed the way towards a much more positive future for hospital services in the town.

I started the meeting by providing the Secretary of State with some of the 12,000 signatures for the Hartlepool Mail’s “Bring them back” campaign to return hospital services to the town in the wake of the decision to stop Wynyard. I explained the strength of feeling in the town and the sense that the local NHS Trust had stopped listening to the wishes of Hartlepool, pushing ever onwards towards centralisation of services at North Tees which was inaccessible and inappropriate for many people in the town. I also stated, confirmed by all councillors at the meeting, that there was conflict between Hartlepool Borough Council and the local NHS Trust which didn’t provide a positive basis for good health services in the town. I asked the Secretary of State what he could do to ensure that the governance and management of the Trust are assessed to determine that meaningful engagement with the public, taking into account the community’s views, is actually undertaken. The Secretary of State promised to contact Monitor, the regulator which assesses Foundation Trusts, to see what can be done.

By far the most constructive part of the meeting was the discussion regarding the NHS Five Year Forward View. I have written in this column before how significant this document from NHS England is. It was published the same day that the local NHS Trust announced its pause from developing Wynyard. It calls for greater integration between all aspects of NHS care, as well as social care, and – crucially in this context – talks of ensuring that smaller district general hospitals such as Hartlepool shouldn’t be closed or merged but should provide services, such as allowing GPs to set up in this hospital, sharing diagnostic services and providing a much more co-ordinated and integrated approach. I asked the Secretary of State whether he would be willing to help Hartlepool be a forerunner with this NHS Five Year Forward View and if this could be done to return services back to the town.

The Secretary of State essentially passed the ball into the local court, but- to be fair to him- not in a dismissive way. When local councillors and I previously met with the health minister to outline our opposition to the closure of A&E, he essentially said at the time: tough – it’s up to the local NHS Trust.

This time it was different. Jeremy Hunt said that Hartlepool Borough Council, together with the local Clinical Commissioning Group, should be coming up with a blueprint for local health services for the town which integrates health and social care and ensures that people access their health services in the town. He said that the council and the CCG “should be in the driving seat” in commissioning services that are consistent with the Five Year Forward View and that NHS England would be interested in working with the town to support that.

I found it to be a positive meeting. I’m not going to pretend that services will return overnight, but the implementation of the Five Year Forward View by the local council and the CCG will help Hartlepool and with sufficient push and focus from everybody concerned should ensure that this rush to centralise services away from our town is stopped and reversed.