The CEO of NHS England has offered new hope in the row over Hartlepool Hospital after being quizzed by Conservative Candidate Richard Royal.
NHS Chief Simon Stevens said that he was opposed to too much centralisation in larger regional hospitals and wanted to “work with local communities who wanted to bring their hospital services back”.
At an event with NHS Chief Simon Stevens, Royal posed public questions that local residents desperately want answers to regarding the future of hospital services in the town. He asked Stevens about the potential to bring services back to the town and the accountability of North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Trust.
Stevens has previously commented that the NHS is already far too centralised, and needs to respond much more flexibly to the needs of different populations, adding that "a number of other countries have found it possible to run viable local hospitals serving smaller communities than sometimes we think are sustainable in the NHS”.
So far in the heightening debates on the issue, no other Hartlepool politician or community activist has approached NHS Senior Management to directly question them over our hospital services. At a time when tempers are flaring, this high level engagement could reap positive rewards.
Royal has followed up the discussion with a personal letter to Mr Stevens asking him to look further at the specific case of Hartlepool and bringing hospital services, particularly the A&E, back to the town. He has also asked for guidance on holding the NHS Trust to account without putting hard-working medical professionals and patients at risk, as might have been the case if the recent resolution to cease co-operation between the Council and Trust had been passed.
This follows on from a letter Royal wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, pressing the issue and offering bi-partisan support for a meeting on the issue. Hunt subsequently accepted a meeting with Iain Wright and members of the council, which is due to take place next week.
Royal was also one of the speakers at the Valentine’s Day Rally, at which he stated he “fundamentally believed that the town needed a hospital and an A&E at its centre”.
Richard Royal commented:
“I was encouraged by Simon Stevens’ response to my questions, which indicated his preference for local services as opposed to centralised super-hospitals. This is exactly the sort of approach we need and Simon indicated he was willing to work with communities such as ours to find a resolution.
“I am enacting a common sense, reasoned and practical approach to resolving the issue, in contrast to the disruptive and irresponsible grandstanding of others that got us into this state and keep us going round in circles.”
TEXT OF LETTER SENT TO SIMON STEVENS:
Dear Mr Stevens,
You may recall that I attended the recent event hosted by the Institute of Healthcare Management, at which I asked you a question about Hartlepool Hospital. I was very grateful for your thoughtful response and your comments regarding the potential for decentralisation and supporting local hospitals. I do however recognise that it was difficult for you to comment on specifics ‘off the cuff’ so I wanted to follow up with this letter asking you to look into the issue more closely.
As I explained, Lord Darzi made a recommendation in 2005 that Hartlepool Hospital was viable and sustainable in its own right, but this was brushed aside by the previous Government in favour of a new taxpayer-subsidised £400m ‘super hospital’ at Wynyard. Numerous services were removed from Hartlepool on the presumption that this scheme would go ahead, until the recession precipitated a rethink.
This has left the people of Hartlepool and nearby villages lacking vital services whilst the future of their hospital is left in a state of limbo. I spoke at a rally on 14th February and joined local residents in calling for the reinstatement of these services at a highly attended ‘Save our Hospital’ march on 10th January, alongside my mother who also works at a hospital in the North East.
Whilst I recognise that often more experienced specialist care might deliver higher rates of success at larger regional centres, I fundamentally believe that services such as A&E Departments require a higher level of accessibility and should therefore be located in population centres such as Hartlepool. Locating them out of town or in other urban areas puts peoples’ lives at risk and I fully support the call to return them to Hartlepool. It would appear to me that this fits closely with your wish to work with local communities to consider returning services according to their needs, and I would appreciate you looking further into the case for bringing these back to the town, given that planned alternatives are no longer viable.
It is also worth drawing your attention to the fact that many local people have lost confidence in North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust (who I have met and spoken with separately about this issue) to adequately represent them and resolve this issue. Hartlepool Borough Council has already passed two motions of No Confidence in the local Trust and recently several councillors backed a proposal to cut off all co-operation with it, illustrating the strength of local feeling. Whilst I recognise the important devolution of responsibility to such Trusts it is essential that they are held to account for their decision making. I would be grateful if you could inform me what mechanisms there are to bring Foundation Trusts to account once the community they apparently represent has lost confidence, without putting hard-working medical professionals and patients at risk?
If you require any further information to enable you to investigate these issues please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.