Anger as another hospital faces axe
CAMPAIGNERS pledged to fight on to save a rural hospital last night despite health chiefs voting to pursue its closure.Board members of the Central Suffolk PCT approved plans to shut Hartismere Hospital in Eye and locate existing and proposed "care in the community" services in the nearby building currently occupied by the Gilchrist maternity unit.
CAMPAIGNERS pledged to fight on to save a rural hospital last night despite health chiefs voting to pursue its closure.
Board members of the Central Suffolk PCT approved plans to shut Hartismere Hospital in Eye and locate existing and proposed "care in the community" services in the nearby building currently occupied by the Gilchrist maternity unit.
The unanimous vote came following the rejection of a last-minute offer by the hospitals' League of Friends to finance an independent report into the future of the area's health care provision.
Hartismere Hospital will now close by the end of March 2006 unless plans are abandoned in the light of a formal consultation exercise.
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The formal period will start on August 1 and finish on October 31.
But the PCT, which faces repaying a £2.9 million overspend, gave the go-ahead for "transitional" changes to start without prejudice to the final outcome.
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Despite assurances to the contrary, many of the 30 protestors who attended yesterday's public board meeting left with the perception that closure was now inevitable.
The protestors, most of whom had arrived for the meeting, at Hadleigh Health Centre, in a coach organised by Eye Women 's Institute, said they were not only angry at the planned closure but at the rate the proposal was being pushed forward - only a month after an initial public meeting.
Local residents who spoke at yesterday's meeting said it would be wrong for the hospital to pay the price of the PCT's "financial mismanagement".
But they heard a resolute defence of the proposed changes by some members of the board, including Dr Gareth Richards, chairman of its professional executive committee, who said the "care in the community" proposals were to be commended.
"In my experience patients who are properly supported to enable them to stay in their homes, instead of being admitted to an institution, live more fulfilling lives," he said.
Board members refuted a suggestion that staff at the hospital, which mainly caters for elderly patients, had already been told they would lose their jobs.
Community midwife, Georgina Sparrow, from the Gilchrist maternity unit, questioned its future if "community care" services were to be based in the same building.
However, she was told that the changes might only mean there was less space for maternity services.
Pat Potter, the PCT's acting chairperson, told members of the public present: "Hard and unpalatable decisions will have to be made, this year and next year."
Eric Havers, chairman of the hospital's League of Friends, said after the meeting he was very disappointed but the fight to save the hospital and make changes more acceptable to local people would go on.
"We are supposed to be in an informal consultation period but it seems very clear to me they are not listening and that the proposal is money-driven," he said.
Sir Michael Lord, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, is now set to raise the Hartismere closure plans with Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, and Mr Havers said he believed the approach might offer the only hope of saving some of Suffolk's small hospitals.