Community hospital cuts a step closer

THOUSANDS of residents in west Suffolk are today facing the news that health chiefs plan to axe all beds in their community hospitals despite an unprecedented fight to save them.

THOUSANDS of residents in west Suffolk are today facing the news that health chiefs plan to axe all beds in their community hospitals despite an unprecedented fight to save them.

Campaigners in Sudbury and Newmarket last night spoke of their “devastation” after it emerged unexpectedly that primary care trust bosses were poised to rubber stamp recommendations to close 48 inpatients beds - and replace them with just a quarter of that figure in the private sector.

Action groups, formed to fight the swathe of cutbacks, claimed partial success with the immediate future of Newmarket Hospital and Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital secure as threatened services were set to be retained on site.

But protestors vowed to continue fighting for inpatient beds, warning they would take the matter to the High Court.


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Colin Spence, chairman of the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, said: “The beds are continually used by local people and they are often full - not having them would have a devastating effect and we are extremely disappointed by these plans.

“These hospital beds have served the community for years and I fear there will be job cuts and it is extremely worrying for staff.

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“But it is good news that they are going to keep all the current services at the Walnuttree, as that was a massive issue, and it is good news the hospital will remain open.”

The recommendations, which will be discussed and decided upon at a board meeting of the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) on Tuesday, are set to change the face of local health care.

In place of inpatient beds, trust bosses will be asked to back plans to commission 12 private beds in Sudbury and Forest Heath.

But treatment and day therapy services, including x-ray and the majority of outpatient specialities, look set to remain in Sudbury.

Under the plans, these will remain at the Walnuttree until the end of 2007 when a new health and social care centre will open in the town.

The future is less bright for the town's other community hospital, St Leonard's, which is set to close and be sold.

The West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust board will also meet on Tuesday to discuss plans to keep outpatient specialities at Sudbury, which were initially expected to transfer to the Bury St Edmunds hospital.

With the outlook on job cuts still unclear, South Suffolk Conservative MP Tim Yeo said he hoped the recommendations would be turned down.

He added: “The proposals for no inpatient beds is disappointing but I think the fact that the hospital remains open means the PCT plans were flawed and we will continue fighting.”

In Newmarket, the PCT has pledged to maintain outpatient clinics - led by consultants or other professionals - specialist clinics and diagnostic services.

Warwick Hirst, chairman of the Newmarket Health Forum, criticised the plans to pay for six beds in the private sector when there was “more control in the hospital with professional nursing staff”.

“The beds will be a big loss and, as usual with cuts, it will be vulnerable people who will suffer.”

There was mixed news for mental health care in Newmarket with the Heathfields Respite Unit for adults with a severe learning disability set to win a reprieve but the Sage older people's mental health day hospital, currently closed due to staff shortages, due to shut for good.

In a 190-page report to the board, PCT chief executive Mike Stonard said the changes were likely to be made over a six-month transitional period, instead of the initial three months.

He said some of the proposals, laid out in consultation paper Modernising Healthcare in West Suffolk, had been modified following a 19-week public consultation exercise.

“All responses, concerns and criticisms received have been treated seriously and have been considered, irrespective of the number of times a particular point was raised,” he said.

The extraordinary public meeting of the PCT will be held in the council chamber of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Bury St Edmunds, on Tuesday beginning at 9.30am.

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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