Government will not save hospitals

HEALTH campaigners in Suffolk reacted with dismay last night after the Government ignored the county in its plans to save community hospitals.Ministers said last night it would be too expensive to repair aged and crumbling hospitals, despite the outpouring of community support for them.

By Graham Dines

HEALTH campaigners in Suffolk reacted with dismay last night after the Government ignored the county in its plans to save community hospitals.

Ministers said last night it would be too expensive to repair aged and crumbling hospitals, despite the outpouring of community support for them.

And Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, unveiling the Government's White Paper, said where community hospitals were not considered viable to serve the local population, then it was right that they should close.

“But if there are community facilities that are needed for the long-term, they shouldn't be closed down due to short-term budgetary problems,” she said.

“We are asking primary care trusts to reconsider their decision against the principles of this White Paper.”

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The change of heart in Whitehall is unlikely to save Suffolk hospitals such as the Walnuttree in Sudbury, the Hartismere in Eye and the Bartlet in Felixstowe.

Speaking to the EADT last night, One of Ms Hewitt's junior ministers, Liam Byrne, said it was difficult to provide 21st century health care in old buildings.

He added: “It is very expensive to modernise them and the choice facing the National Health Service is either paying for a backlog of repairs or investing in new services.”

Peter Mellor, member of the Save Felixstowe Hospitals campaign, said he had gone past anger and now felt “very much let down” and frustrated by the Government.

“The first issue is that the Government does not like old buildings and regards them all as unfit for purpose,” he said. “The fact that they are doing a thoroughly good job now seems to be a detail.

“The second thing is Sir Nigel Crisp, chief executive of the NHS, wants a patient-led NHS. Our consultation has shown so very clearly that people in this area want to retain their hospital.

“If the PCT closes them they will be going against the chief executive of the NHS.”

Walnutree Hospital campaigner Michael Mandelstam said: “If an old building is not suitable then of course it makes sense to have modern, cost effective facilities, but some old buildings actually function very well.

“We are in full agreement in Sudbury that it would be good to have a modern hospital, but we think that in the absence of any new facilities, Walnuttree needs to stay open.

And Eric Havers, chairman of the Hartismere League of Friends, said: “In a sense, they will ignore any White Paper because they are in debt. They have got to pay this money back, unfortunately for us. “Unless Patricia Hewitt steps in herself and says: 'You have to save Hartismere', I cannot see it being saved.”

Ministers were speaking to journalists yesterday in a nationwide charm offensive to sell their plans for community health services in England, which aim to reduce the number of admissions into acute hospitals.

A long-awaited 200 page community services White Paper sets out a vision to provide more care and treatment outside the costly setting of traditional acute hospitals.

Over the next five years, the Government will develop “a new generation of modern NHS community hospitals.”

These “state-of-the-art” centres would provide diagnostic services, surgery and outpatient facilities closer to where people live, similar to Germany's polyclinics which deliver services with the involvement of doctors, nurses and other health professionals

Ms Hewitt said: “Nearly 90% of patient contact occurs in the community and is trusted, but we still spend below the European average on primary care.

“Over the next 10 years I want to see 5% of resources shifted from secondary to primary care, which will help to make primary and community services more responsive to people's needs.”

Mr Byrne said: “We want what patients are demanding - that the NHS and social services work around clients' needs, rather than patients having to fall in line with the health service and social care providers.”

The Health White Paper suggests that some health services could be placed in more convenient locations, such as supermarkets, while pharmacies and private providers could also deliver more care for patients.

n Health bosses in East Suffolk last week agreed plans which will see the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe and Hartismere Hospital in Eye closed, along with four day hospitals in the county.

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