Future of hospital's A&E unit is secured

THE long-term future of a Suffolk hospital's accident and emergency and maternity department have been secured following a major review of health services in the region.

Danielle Nuttall

THE long-term future of a Suffolk hospital's accident and emergency and maternity department have been secured following a major review of health services in the region.

There had been fears the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds could be downgraded following the review, putting A&E services under threat.

But in its 10-year health blueprint yesterday, the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) confirmed it was keeping open maternity and A&E departments at all the region's hospitals.

The news was welcomed last night by Bury MP David Ruffley, who called it a “victory for people power”.

He said: “This is welcome news as the growing town of Bury St Edmunds obviously needs an A&E department. This is nothing short of a victory for people power.

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“Over the last three years the people of Bury and its MP have fought a vigorous fight to tell the authorities that we will not accept any mucking around with our A&E at the West Suffolk Hospital.”

The SHA conducted a wholesale review of acute services in the region in which it considered eight areas, including maternity care, children's health, acute care and mental health.

The Government had outlined an intention to create more centralised care.

Fears were raised for the future of the West Suffolk Hospital when Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge was set to double in size after being granted permission to undergo development to become “a super regional hospital” by 2010.

This immediately sparked concerns that other hospitals in the region could suffer cuts.

But reacting to the SHA's announcement yesterday, a spokesman for the West Suffolk Hospital said: “This is not news to West Suffolk Hospital as there have never been any plans to close the A&E department.”

Key proposals of the Towards the Best, Together plan include a focus on prevention as well as treating illnesses, new investment in staff and waiting time guarantees, maintaining hospitals' maternity services, and better access to local services such as dentists, GPs and diagnostics.

There will also be a push for more care to be delivered locally where possible, new and improved services for stroke, heart attack and major trauma in dedicated centres and personal care plans for those who have long term conditions.

Dr Robert Winter, medical director of NHS East of England and clinical champion for Towards the Best, Together, said: “This vision is based on a clear case for change that energised both me and my clinical colleagues who recognised that in too many areas we are not delivering the best we can for people who use NHS services.

“It promises a sustainable future for district general hospitals across the region with all acute trusts providing both A&E and maternity services, but recognises that many people want routine services closer to home rather than in major acute hospitals.”

Members of the public have until August 4 to comment on the proposals either by writing in or visiting the East of England NHS website.

More than 50 meetings with clinical and patient groups have also been arranged ahead of a meeting on September 25 when the final vision will be agreed.

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