Anger as health service cuts accepted

A RAFT of cutbacks to health services in west Suffolk will not be referred to the Health Secretary, it was decided yesterday.Members of Suffolk's health scrutiny committee narrowly voted against referring the Suffolk West PCT plans to Patricia Hewitt, by a margin of six to five, at a meeting held in Ipswich.

A RAFT of cutbacks to health services in west Suffolk will not be referred to the Health Secretary, it was decided yesterday.

Members of Suffolk's health scrutiny committee narrowly voted against referring the Suffolk West PCT plans to Patricia Hewitt, by a margin of six to five, at a meeting held in Ipswich.

The decision - which comes just weeks after the same committee did refer proposals by East Suffolk PCTS - will devastate scores of campaigners across the west of the county, who have battled long and hard against the cuts.

It will see all inpatient beds at Newmarket Hospital and Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital closed this autumn and replaced with beds purchased in the private sector.


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And, although outpatient services will be retained, Sudbury's second hospital - St Leonard's - will be closed and sold, with the Walnuttree taking on its services.

But last night the councillor who proposed the motion not to refer the decisions to the Secretary of State defended the move, arguing it was the best thing for the people of west Suffolk.

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Trevor Beckwith, an Independent St Edmundsbury Borough councillor, said: “I'm convinced by the PCT that their proposals are for the benefit of the people - the most important thing in all of this is the people. I understand that people will be concerned, but I just hope that time proves me right.”

He added: “I was surprised that I got that level of support, but our responsibility is to the people. I'm convinced that what we did is right.”

However, Ben Redsell, Tory county councillor for Woodbridge, who doggedly quizzed Suffolk West PCT chief executive Mike Stonard during the meeting, quit the scrutiny committee after the decision.

“I think it was the wrong decision. I do not agree with Trevor Beckwith and I think he'll find himself very lonely in that decision if he goes walking around Sudbury and Newmarket. I would say it's clearly a setback in health provision in West Suffolk,” he said.

But Mr Stonard, who repeatedly stressed to the meeting the proposals were not “all only about money”, welcomed the committee's verdict.

“I thought it would be close,” he said after the meeting. “I'm very pleased that the members of the committee have taken on board the significant changes that we made to our proposals.

“We think that patient care will be improved because people who have been in hospital and are medically fit will be able to go home far more quickly and will receive rehabilitation in the community rather than going into an institution with a dependency culture which tends to slow down their progress.”

He added: “If it had been referred it would have delayed things while we waited for the Secretary of State to make the decision.

“We believe that we need to get on with the new model of care and bring things in - that does not mean things closing, rather new things coming in.

“We need to show good faith to the people of Sudbury about the new health centre. We intend to deliver on what we've agreed and they need to see concrete progress.”

And Mr Stonard also made a plea to those considering the possibility of a judicial review - warning that it could lead to the gaps in care that so many in Sudbury have feared.

“It could delay the whole process for between six and twelve months,” he said. “A judicial review would not overturn the decision of the PCT board. However, it could cost the PCT hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“Staff tell me that they just want to get on with things now. We may have to, for health and safety reasons, close the Walnuttree around the end of 2007 and if there was a significant delay in putting in the new health and social care centre in Sudbury it would create just the gap that the people fear.

“The message to people is 'let us get on with it and we'll show you our commitment'.”

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