Health decision to be re-examined

CAMPAIGNERS fighting cuts to health services in west Suffolk have welcomed a U-turn on a decision not to refer the controversial proposals to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

CAMPAIGNERS fighting cuts to health services in west Suffolk have welcomed a U-turn on a decision not to refer the controversial proposals to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Members of the county's Health Scrutiny Committee announced last night they were going to reconsider their decision not to refer the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust plans to the Secretary of State.

The turnaround was made following calls for a judicial review into proposals to close all inpatient beds at the Walnuttree Hospital, in Sudbury, which would have led to a costly legal battle in court, had the committee not agreed to review the outcome of its meeting in April.

Last night, campaigners welcomed the decision to reconsider, and said it was a positive step forward.

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Frances Jackson, who lodged the legal challenge along with two other Walnuttree Hospital patients, said the judicial review would now be put on the hold until scrutiny committee members had met to discuss the matter later in the year.

“This has taken me completely by surprise but I am delighted if it forges the way for a new community hospital with beds for the town,” she said.

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“The only reason we called for a judicial review in the first place was because the matter was not referred to Patricia Hewitt.

“This will now be put on the backburner until we know what the committee's decision is going to be, and I just hope the members are going to look after the people they represent by referring the matter.”

The Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee, which has appointed seven new members since its last meeting in April, will meet on September 12 to reconsider the PCT's plans, which also include the closure of beds at Newmarket Hospital.

Warwick Hirst, chairman of the Newmarket Health Forum, said he was “absolutely delighted” with the announcement.

“It has always been crazy that the Suffolk East PCT's plans were referred, and not the proposals from the Suffolk West PCT, but common sense seems to have prevailed,” he said

South Suffolk Conservative MP, Tim Yeo, said: “I was dismayed when the proposals were not referred, so this is good news.

“I have always backed Mrs Jackson's decision to go for a judicial review, and if her actions have made the committee reconsider its decision then it has all been worthwhile.

“Any chink of light is welcome in what has been a long, dark tunnel, and there is a real chance something will come of this.”

Mr Yeo added the need for a community hospitals was backed up in an announcement made on Wednesday by Patricia Hewitt, who said £750 million was being made available over the next five years for primary care trusts, to be used for the purpose of delivering community services, including hospitals. She also highlighted the need for services in places convenient for patients.

“I have urged the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust to make a bid for money, and I have written a letter to Patricia Hewitt asking her to receive any bid from the PCT sympathetically,” added Mr Yeo.

The chairman of the Health Scrutiny Committee, county councillor David Lockwood, said, “We understand the position put forward in the challenge.

“The committee will meet on September 12 and reconsider the PCT's modernisation plans before making a decision on whether or not to refer the proposals to the Secretary of State for Health.”

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