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Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Friday, 18 June 2010 15:23 UK
Where next for the scrapped 460m Wynyard hospital?
Lee Johnson
By BBC Tees Hartlepool reporter Lee Johnson

Artists impression of new hospital
The decision to scrap the new hospital has raised fears over healthcare

The new hospital at Wynyard Business Park promised to revolutionise health care for people on Teesside.

The £460m development attracted plenty of controversy, some said the location was too remote, and others argued a new hospital wasn't needed at all.

Now the government's decision to scrap the project has raised questions over the future of healthcare in our region.

The saga behind the Wynyard development can be traced back to July 2005.

Darzi recommendation

A report by Lord Darzi into health provision on Teesside recommended that the North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals should be kept open and improvements should be made to the existing services at the two sites.

The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, weighed in on the debate saying there was "no question" that Hartlepool hospital would close.

But Lord Darzi's report wasn't implemented.

Instead, in September 2006, the then Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt, asked for an independent review into maternity and paediatric services across Teesside.

Lord Darzi
Lord Darzi recommended a single site hospital wasn't needed

It was then decided the existing hospitals in Stockton and Hartlepool should close to make way for a new hospital.

The news came as a massive blow to those who had been told they would continue to have hospitals on their doorsteps.

There was also a significant political impact, as Labour's Hartlepool MP Ian Wright stepped down as Parliamentary Private Secretary for Health over the government's decision, saying the move was a "backward step" for the town.

Campaigns and consultation

Campaigners from the Save Our Hospital group branded the plans as "despicable and dishonourable", saying a new hospital on the outskirts of the town would put lives at risk.

However, behind the scenes, plans for the new hospital were gathering pace.

In May 2008, a shortlist of 10 possible locations was drawn up, with Wynyard Business Park and Green Farm in Wolviston the two preferred options.

People were given the chance to have their say in a series of consultations, but an independent review decided the Wynyard Business Park was the best option.

That angered the residents from the Wynyard estate, who launched a petition against the plans, saying the area wasn't a sensible choice for a new hospital.

Nevertheless, Stockton and Hartlepool councils granted the scheme planning permission in October 2009.

Cash and questions

Before the recession, the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust had every reason to feel confident the new hospital would be built.

Privately, it had received reassurances from the Department for Health that the cash would be available.

Even as the country continued to sink into an economic slump, health chiefs were convinced the government would stick to its word.

In March 2010, the then Health Secretary Andy Burnham travelled to Hartlepool to formally announce the £460m was available for Wynyard.

"It will build brand new state of the art facilities and will give the people here the very best the NHS can offer", he said.

Work was due to start on the new hospital in 2012, with the first patients expected to be admitted in 2015.

But critics were questioning whether the government had written a cheque it couldn't afford to cash.

No guarantees

Just three months after Andy Burnham's announcement, the Coalition government's Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced the new hospital at Wynyard was unaffordable and would be scrapped as part of a wider package of cuts totalling £2bn.

He accused the government of making "commitments it knew the next government could not fulfil".

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright says he expects Hartlepool's hospital to close in the near future and the transfer of all services to North Tees.

"The government has not offered any alternative solutions - closure (of Hartlepool hospital) is a big risk, and the people of Hartlepool deserve better than this."

Hartlepool's University hospital
The future of Hartlepool's hospital is now uncertain

Mr Alexander did say schemes for the Royal Liverpool Hospital, the Pennine Acute hospital, and the Epsom and St Helier Hospital would go ahead.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham says he will challenge the decision in the House of Commons.

"This hospital was the second most important project in the country, and now three other hospital projects were given the go ahead but it's the one in the North East that gets axed, and that's just typical."

The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust says it's disappointed by the government's decision, and is looking for private investors to fund another new development.

The Trust has already spent £9.6m on buying on land, but it's Chief Executive, Alan Foster, says it still hopes a new hospital can be built there.

"Clearly the scheme we had proposed cannot go forward, but we need some time to reflect.

"There's still a need for excellent clinical services, and we need to see what our options are going forward."

Mr Foster also acknowledged there is a chance Hartlepool's hospital could close.

So with the future of health services North of the Tees unclear, a post mortem into the Wynyard development has raised two key questions:

Why wasn't a back up plan drawn up in case the money wasn't available for the new hospital at Wynyard?

And will the people of Hartlepool be left without a hospital, or will an alternative hospital be built on the land?

It seems likely this saga will drag on for some time yet.

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