Bosses quizzed at hospital meeting

HUNDREDS of furious campaigners fighting to save their local hospital from almost certain closure clashed angrily with health bosses last night in a last-ditch attempt to win a change of heart.

By James Mortlock

HUNDREDS of furious campaigners fighting to save their local hospital from almost certain closure clashed angrily with health bosses last night in a last-ditch attempt to win a change of heart.

The angry crowd packed a special public meeting to call on bosses at West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust to come clean about their motives for the proposed shut down of Sudbury's ageing Walnuttree Hospital, should it fail fire safety tests as expected.

The results of the independent fire risk assessment will be revealed at a trust board meeting next Friday, when the final decision on the hospital's future will be taken.

To rapturous applause, residents branded the closure plan a cost-cutting measure by the debt-ridden trust and they demanded it be shelved until a new hospital is built in the town.

Well over 300 members of the public were at the meeting at the town's Delphi sports and social club.

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Members of Sudbury Town Council, Babergh District Council and hospital staff concerned about their jobs were also there.

Chris Bown, chief executive of the hospital trust, Tony Ranzetta, chief executive of the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT), and Paul Kemp, of the Strategic Health Authority (SHA), which will have the ultimate say over whether Sudbury should have a new hospital, represented the various health bodies.

Campaigners demanded Walnuttree stay open until the promised £20 million new hospital in the town is open.

One resident told the health chiefs: “The residents of Sudbury feel let down by you. We're just not getting the service we expect.”

Another feared many patients currently occupying the hospital's 68 inpatient beds would not survive any forced move.

And one local said: “My father is currently in Walnuttree and I would like to know what you're going to do about my dad.

“He spent six years fighting for this country and I've come here to ask what you're going to do with him.”

A livid campaigner said the fire assessment commissioned by Mr Bown when he took over at the trust in the summer was nothing but an excuse.

“It's an excuse to close the hospital and sell the land for development to swell the trust's coffers,” he said.

Tom Keane, Unison health and safety representative at the hospital, accused Mr Bown of doing “everything he could” to discredit Walnuttree Hospital.

But he stressed: “We didn't become unsafe overnight. Why has the building become unsafe overnight? It's quite amazing.

“But Mr Bown has conveniently not told us that the trust's application for foundation status is under great threat because of the (PCT's) £4 million plus debt. Major cost cutting is needed and Walnuttree is a prime target.”

However, Mr Bown insisted the safety of staff and patients were top of his agenda.

He said: “The (fire safety risk assessment) report is with me today and I need to consider that over the next few days.

“I have to make it absolutely clear there are no savings to be gained from saving Walnuttree Hospital. There are no savings at all in Sudbury.

“This is not a finance issue - this is about ensuring staff and patients at the hospital can be kept safe. That's of paramount importance to me.

“I know you won't believe me but I'm telling you the facts. The decision will be made at a meeting next Friday.”

Mr Ranzetta told the meeting he was confident the new hospital would be built in Sudbury by 2007.

And he said a crunch meeting in March - when the PCT will present its case for the unit to the SHA - would bring positive news for campaigners who have fought for new health facilities in the growing town for decades.

The EADT is backing the fight to save Walnuttree and is urging health chiefs to keep the hospital open until the new unit is ready.

Campaigners fear that if Walnuttree closes, intolerable pressure will be put on health services across west Suffolk.

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