Doctors take health fight to Parliament

DOCTORS in Suffolk are today urging the Government to halt the proposed closure of community hospitals, which they say will be “disastrous” for their patients.

DOCTORS in Suffolk are today urging the Government to halt the proposed closure of community hospitals, which they say will be “disastrous” for their patients.

The Suffolk division of the British Medical Association is today delivering a letter by hand to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt calling on her to intervene and stop the plans.

The letter expresses the views of hospital and community doctors, as well as GPs in rural areas, who said they are “deeply concerned” about the proposals.

But a Department of Health spokeswoman insisted last night that community hospital services had a “bright future”.

The plans, currently under consultation, are to close community hospitals in Felixstowe, Sudbury, Newmarket and Eye, as well as cutting beds at Aldeburgh Hospital to 20.

Sparked by a multi-million pound debt, West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, would lose 55 beds and Ipswich Hospital 80, while mental health services across the county would also be cut.

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Dr Janet Massey, BMA Suffolk division secretary and a GP in Felixstowe, said: “Community hospitals have a vital role to play in caring for patients.

“If GPs lose their community hospital beds they will increasingly have to send inappropriate admissions to district hospitals.

“There has not been any unified county consultation on these proposals. They are bad news for patients and doctors.”

The move comes after the county's BMA held an extraordinary meeting, where members decided they would copy a letter to the Health Secretary, local MPs, PCTs and the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) expressing their concern about the proposed loss of community hospitals beds and the “serious effects” of consistent under-funding of Suffolk's NHS.

The letter, signed by the chairman of the Suffolk division of the BMA Dr Ron Donnelly and Dr Massey, says the proposals would lead to frustrations and delays for GPs, further stress on district nursing services and the need for finding, recruiting and training a “whole army of home carers”.

Meanwhile, as staff hear of impending closures they leave their jobs, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of staff shortages and ward closures due to a lack of qualified nurses.

It expresses concern for the most vulnerable patients, saying they are becoming exceedingly scared, with mental health and community paediatrician job losses impacting on them the most.

With the creation of a Suffolk-wide PCT also on the horizon, the letter warns that mergers have led to doctors losing management positions, even though it says their input is essential for patient services.

And the letter said the division had “little confidence” in those who produced the consultation documents, with the plans changing “repeatedly and dramatically” in the last two years.

“A robust audit is required but we have no confidence in the ability of the Strategic Health Authority to do this,” it tells the Health Secretary.

“In conclusion, the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association is dedicated to support its patients as well as its members, and wishes you to know of the deep unrest and unfortunate distrust that is now pervading the county.”

A SHA spokeswoman said: “Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire SHA is unable to comment on the Suffolk service review proposals whilst they are out to formal consultation.

“The Suffolk division of the BMA is an important stakeholder and as with all interested parties we would encourage them to submit their views through the consultation procedure.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Far from being under threat, NHS community hospital services have a bright future.

“We are committed to building, re-building and refurbishing at least 50 community hospitals as part of a £100million investment, but nevertheless, the decision about the future of individual facilities lies with the NHS locally.

“The Department of Health considers all correspondence it receives and will respond to the BMA's letter accordingly.”

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