Fury as another hospital faces closure

HEALTH chiefs are being accused of betrayal after proposals were put forward to close a rural hospital by March next year and sell the site to a private developer.

By David Green

HEALTH chiefs are being accused of betrayal after proposals were put forward to close a rural hospital by March next year and sell the site to a private developer.

In-patient provision at Hartismere Hospital, Eye, will be phased out completely over the next eight months.

A small number of out-patient facilities, together with proposed new community services, will also be relocated to nearby buildings, according to plans being recommended for approval by the Central Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT).

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However, local people have reacted with horror to the plan - due to be endorsed by board members on Tuesday - and the local MP said he was "very, very angry".

PCTs throughout Suffolk have already been involved in clashes with MPs and the public over plans to close all beds at the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury and make swinging cuts in hospitals at Felixstowe, Bury St Edmunds, Aldeburgh and Newmarket

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The Central Suffolk PCT, trying to cope with a large deficit, has made no secret of the fact that its preferred option for Hartismere Hospital was to change from a "bed-based" culture to a care in the community philosophy but pledged to listen to local views before coming to any decision.

But it has also refuted suggestions that the changes were inspired by cost-cutting.

Only a month ago local people were invited to a consultation meeting over the future of the hospital which now has 45 beds - down from 80 last year - and caters mainly for elderly people.

Local residents, who spoke of their opposition to the loss of in-patient facilities, say they emerged from the meeting with the impression that their view would be listened to and that changes would be long-term.

However, in a statement headed A New Future for Hartismere Hospital, the PCT announced yesterday that it would close, subject to board approval next Tuesday and public consultation, by the end of the current financial year.

It said it was required by the Department of Health to tackle its "significant financial problems" and balance its books by the end of March 2006 as well as paying back much of the money it has overspent in previous years.

"Due to the financial position, the changes to the way services are organised at Hartismere - to reduce in-patient provision at the same time as developing community services - will need to be brought in more quickly than originally thought.

"Services would be operated from the adjacent Gilchrist site and the move to a non-bed based model of provision will be by 31st March 2006," said the statement.

It claimed that the proposed changes represented an opportunity to improve local health care provision.

Staff were told in a private meeting on Thursday about the intended closure.

Central Suffolk MP, Sir Michael Lord, said: "I am very, very angry. I had been given to understand that the consultation process would be long enough for everyone to have their input.

"I believe Hartismere Hospital should be kept open and I have written to all the local GPs asking them to come to a meeting with me on September 5.

"I want to get their opinions about how the hospital should be used and I also want to talk to midwives and others in the medical professions who use the hospital so we can come to a sensible decision about what its future should be."

Sir Michael said the decision should be based on the medical needs of people in the area and not simply aimed at balancing the books in the short term.

"What appears to be happening as a result of PCTs badly managing their finances and being desperately short of cash, is that they are bent upon closing every small hospital in the county, regardless of their usefulness. That can't be sensible.

"What we must do is first of all work out what the hospitals should be used for and then fight for the money, not just close them to balance the books," Sir Michael said.

Mayor of Eye, Simon Hooton, said it appeared that the consultation process was "a complete farce" and that the PCT had betrayed the trust of local people that they were genuinely being consulted.

"The financial pressure on the PCT is so great it looks as if they will jump into anything. Yes, the hospital needs investment to bring it up to modern standards but we need to have meaningful discussions with local people to create some sort of future for it," he said.

Eric Havers, chairman of the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends, said: "It is unbelievable. No wonder people do not respect officialdom when their trust is betrayed like this."

A Central Suffolk PCT spokeswoman said the trust was obliged by law to undergo widespread consultations and this would happen.

"We understand the concerns but we need to make changes quicker than we thought. We need to ensure health services are viable in the long term," she added.

n The three small community hospitals in north Suffolk have been described as "the jewels in the crown" of the area's healthcare by officials who are launching a new scheme to provide better services for patients.

Waveney Primary Care Trust (PCT) is preparing to change how it organises healthcare in north Suffolk so that wherever possible the care will be delivered in people's homes or in a local environment.

A series of public meetings are planned to take place across north Suffolk in the coming weeks to explain the "Care Closer to Home" initiative.

PCT chief executive Andrew Evans said NHS research has proven that people recover better when they are treated at home or return home from hospital for rehabilitation after a hospital stay.

The three community hospitals at Halesworth, Southwold and Beccles will play an important role in the new scheme, he said.

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