Health campaigners call for swift action

CAMPAIGNERS have urged Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to make a swift decision as they wait for a verdict on hospital closure plans.Staff and patients in the Sudbury area last night stressed the importance of “planning for the future” with the axe hanging over the town's two hospitals, Walnuttree and St Leonard's.

CAMPAIGNERS have urged Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to make a swift decision as they wait for a verdict on hospital closure plans.

Staff and patients in the Sudbury area last night stressed the importance of “planning for the future” with the axe hanging over the town's two hospitals, Walnuttree and St Leonard's.

But a short-term decision now lies in the hands of Mrs Hewitt after new proposals from Suffolk's Primary Care Trust (PCT) were deferred to her department last week.

Hospital porter Michael Mitchell, a member of the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, revealed staff morale had taken an upturn in the wake of the referral by Suffolk's health scrutiny committee.

“We all want this matter to be decided as soon as possible so we can move on with planning for the future,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Staff morale in Sudbury was pretty down but the decision to refer the plans has buoyed everyone up and I have received a lot of phone calls from people who were quite surprised but happy.”

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The committee last week referred proposals to close and sell Sudbury's two hospitals and replace them with a “healthcare hub”, outlined by the PCT.

But, despite overwhelming support from committee members and the community, plans to upgrade Newmarket Hospital were put on hold by the PCT, which said the proposals were reliant on the Sudbury measures going ahead.

Mr Mitchell's call for quick action was backed by Newmarket MP Richard Spring, who said morale would be seriously dented if a decision was not forthcoming.

In a letter to the Health Secretary, Mr Spring said: “The PCT want the two proposals to be seen holistically. I do hope, however, that you well be able to come to a firm conclusion as rapidly as possible.

“Whilst the news for Newmarket is good, I am concerned that any delay will aggravate staff morale problems. I have asked the chief executive of the PCT to try to take on the creation of an on-site GP led facility as soon as possible. This would be a great asset to the provision of care at the hospital.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health declined to put a timetable on any decision saying they worked on a “case-by-case basis”.

Speaking after last week's decision, PCT chief executive Carole Taylor Brown said she was “disappointed” with the deferral and said there was no choice but to look at plans for Newmarket and Sudbury together.

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk