Health bosses challenged on hospital axe

HEALTH bosses were challenged last night to provide evidence that closure of a rural hospital will not lead to patients being abandoned in their homes.

By David Green

HEALTH bosses were challenged last night to provide evidence that closure of a rural hospital will not lead to patients being abandoned in their homes.

They were also urged to demonstrate that a public consultation was genuine, not a sham exercise.

More than 120 people packed into Stradbroke Community Centre to question officials of Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts over the planned closure of Hartismere Hospital in Eye and the development of so-called “care in the community” services.

They heard Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, Sir Michael Lord, describe the proposals as “irresponsible” because it was clear that community services would probably not be in place in time.

Sir Michael, who chaired the meeting, said he was determined to keep the hospital open and would be seeking a further meeting with Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt.

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“It is hugely irresponsible for anybody to seek to remove one set of services before another is in place,” he said.

The PCTs are facing a financial crisis but claim that while cuts in rural hospital services have been brought forward, the NHS was already moving away from an in-patient culture to a system of care closer to home.

Those present at last night's public consultation meeting expressed considerable scepticism that a proper care in the community system would be in place by the time the hospital closed, possibly by April 1 2006.

Several people spoke of people being discharged home from Ipswich Hospital and then receiving inadequate support.

There were also claims that the PCTs were targeting cuts on vulnerable groups of people, including the elderly.

Officials said the programme would be challenging but, in the event of a decision to confirm the proposed changes, they would do all they could to ensure an efficient transition was achieved.

However, officials admitted there was a risk that some patients in east Suffolk could suffer as a result of the shake-up.

PCTs chief executive, Carole Taylor-Brown, said the trusts had a duty to provide the best service for patients within the budget available.

While board members would listen to public views, they had a statutory duty to repay money overspent and achieve a financial balance in the future.

Ms Taylor-Brown said the NHS had already been moving away from a beds-orientated system into a service which provided care closer to home but the financial crisis had quickened the pace of change.

“Old fashioned services are not the most efficient way of giving best care to patients,” she said.

But one local resident, Christine Cooper, responded later with an account of the inadequate home support given to her mother and said: “Old fashioned care is better than no care at all.”

The consultation exercise over proposals to close Hartismere Hospital and cut provision of services in other rural hospitals is due to end on November 30.

The board of the combined PCTs is expected to make a final decision at its meeting at the end of January.