The people of my constituency and the surrounding area have experienced uncertainty about the future of hospital services for approximately a decade. The recent set of recommendations from the independent reconfiguration panel, following its review of maternity and paediatric services, gives rise to more questions than answers.
My interpretation of the IRP's recommendations differs from that of my hon. Friend Frank Cook. I think that it recommends building a new hospital and closing the existing hospitals at North Tees and Hartlepool. It also recommends that specialist neonatal services for the whole of Teesside should be situated in the new hospital, that in the interim period—which could last a decade—consultant-led maternity and paediatric services should be centralised at the University hospital of North Tees, and that a midwife-led maternity unit and paediatric assessment unit should be provided at the University hospital of Hartlepool.
To say that I am disappointed and feel profoundly let down by the decision is an understatement. The IRP's set of recommendations looks suspiciously like that which the County Durham and Tees Valley strategic health authority produced in 2003. Those recommendations stated that
"the long-term intention is to have one single acute hospital north of the River Tees."
So much work and effort by a wide range of people was for nothing. That work included the observations of Professor Darzi in his review of a single-site option for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust. He said that
"neither the University Hospital of North Tees or the University Hospital of Hartlepool could provide services for the whole of north Teesside. Any single site option would therefore involve a major capital development. The timescales for such developments are often in the region of 7-8 years. As such, this would not be a solution to the issues facing the health service today"—
Professor Darzi stresses "today"—
"and, in particular, the need for rapid change to deliver sustainable, thriving, convenient and high quality services."
The people of Hartlepool, who already suffer greater health inequality and shorter life expectancy than those in virtually any other part of the country, have experienced uncertainty about hospital services for almost 20 years. Staff at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust suffer similar uncertainty and a corresponding loss of morale and job satisfaction. That is unacceptable and runs the risk of undermining all the investment in the local health economy that the Government have made in the past decade.
The panel's recommendations also disregard Professor Darzi's comments that the centralisation of all emergency services at North Tees or in an area away from the University hospital of Hartlepool would
"greatly reduce locally available urgent care services for the population of Hartlepool and Easington, who rely heavily on secondary care, ahead of"—
I emphasise "ahead of"—
"the completion of investment and expansion in primary care developments".
Those are acute observations from Professor Darzi, and I will revert to those themes later. However, most importantly, the IRP recommendations also fail to take account of the wishes of 32,403 people who signed a petition, which I presented to the House of Commons, about the need to safeguard the viability of the University hospital of Hartlepool.