Health campaigners launch new legal bid

HEALTH bosses are gearing up a fresh legal fight after High Court judges agreed to look at controversial plans to axe beds at a threatened community hospital.

HEALTH bosses are gearing up a fresh legal fight after High Court judges agreed to look at controversial plans to axe beds at a threatened community hospital.

Determined campaigners hailed the decision in the latest twist to save health services in the Sudbury area - claiming that any bed closures would lead to the eventual demise of the town's Walnuttree Hospital.

Officials at Suffolk Primary Care Trust said the decision to axe three beds was taken due to health and safety reasons and that it planned to reopen the beds as soon as possible.

But leading campaigner Frances Jackson, a member of the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, claimed the plans were part of a “closure by stealth”.

She told the EADT: “I think the fact that these bed cuts will go to a judicial review is great news.

“I know it is only a few beds but I think most people think it would be the beginning of a gradual filtering out of all beds in Sudbury.

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“It is so important we retain these beds - otherwise the likes of elderly patients and their families might have to travel to Newmarket or Bury St Edmunds to hospital.”

London solicitors Leigh Day & Co had filed for a judicial review, claiming the cutbacks were unlawful as the decision was taken without public consultation.

But John Such, chief operating officer for Suffolk Primary Care Trust, last night said the decision was taken on the advice of clinicians to have the “right number of professional staff” to ensure patient care.

Mr Such said: “We are aware of the application for a judicial review into a decision taken by the PCT to reduce temporarily the number of beds in use at the Walnuttree Hospital.

“It will be for a judge to decide whether there is a case to be heard.

“In common with other NHS hospitals and inpatient services, such operational decisions are important to maintaining standards and quality of care.

“The move was a temporary one because of the number of staff on planned maternity leave and sick leave at the time.

“The original consideration was that the number of beds should reduce by five, but the hospital has in fact been able to continue with a reduction of just three beds.

“We are keeping the service under continual review and plan to re-open the beds as soon as it is clinically safe to do so.”

Suffolk PCT had announced plans for a new healthcare hub in Sudbury centring around a number of outpatient facilities and a few inpatient beds in a community facility.

But the new proposals have been sent to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt after members of the Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee said they were too vague.