A NORTH-EAST Mayor has pledged to bring "healthcare services" back to a town where services have been "stripped away" over the past few years.

Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who is campaigning for re-election against Labour's Jessie Joe Jacobs, made the pledge after describing services provided in Hartlepool.

As part of his campaign, Mr Houchen recently pledged to "bring steelmaking" back to Teesside after receiving a further £71m to clean up the former SSI Steelworks site in Redcar.

This afternoon, vowing to reintroduce services at Hartlepool University Hospital and establish a state-of-the-art dementia care facility, Mr Houchen said the North-East could become a centre of excellence for healthcare services.

He said: “Our region deserves first class health services and we must make sure that everyone can access them quickly and effectively.

"To do that, we must improve the quality and the type of health services across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

“I can understand the anger and despair of local people in Hartlepool who have seen services stripped away from Hartlepool University Hospital over the last few years."

Mr Houchen, who claimed there had been a significant drop in the number of babies born in Hartlepool, said he has written to Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry to request the 'necessary powers' needed.

He said: "Those in London are too remote from our area to understand the local healthcare priorities across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

"How can someone sat in Whitehall understand the health needs of someone in Hartlepool or Billingham."

The Northern Echo:

Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry on a visit to County Durham last week Picture: STUART BOULTON

Mr Houchen said his letter to Mr Berry requested the powers to allow decision makers, reintroduce services at Hartlepool University Hospital to meet the needs of local people.

Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry visits County Durham

As part of today's pledge, Mr Houchen said it would be a top priority to tackle health inequality, which has allowed the UK's biggest gap in life expectancy to develop in Stockton.

He added: "The fact the there’s a 21-year disparity in life expectancy between two places just a few miles apart has been allowed to develop over recent decades is an absolute disgrace.

"With the devolution of health and social care we can address these issues and reintroduce the required services to make real improvements in peoples lives.”

In response to Mr Houchen's pledge, Jessie Joe Jacobs said: "Devolving responsibility for health and care budgets to the combined authority is great and is something that I will also be demanding. However, this is because I have the skills and experience, after many years of working in health, care and regeneration, to use these powers for good.

"I would be deeply concerned about putting any conservative politician in charge of health and social care, never mind one who has no experience in this area and who only sees Teesside as an excel spreadsheet.

"The conservative’s record on healthcare is appalling, and it is under the last 10 years in government that we have witnessed a drastic breakdown in the ability of health and care services to properly serve the community. We have also seen more and more of our NHS sold off to profit-making companies.

"There’s no way I would trust anything to do with it in their hands. So, if Teesside do get these powers, there can be only one person the public can vote for in order to use these powers for good. That person is me."