Health Sec to decide hospitals' fates

CAMPAIGNERS spoke of their delight last night after two Suffolk hospitals were handed a potential lifeline.Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee yesterday voted by a majority of 12-1 to pass the fate of Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital and Newmarket Hospital into the hands of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

CAMPAIGNERS spoke of their delight last night after two Suffolk hospitals were handed a potential lifeline.

Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee yesterday voted by a majority of 12-1 to pass the fate of Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital and Newmarket Hospital into the hands of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Ms Hewitt will now decide whether the Walnuttree Hospital should be closed, with the loss of 32 community beds, and 16 beds cut at Newmarket Hospital. She is expected to announce her decision in about six months.

Suffolk West Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) had put forward a range of alternatives focused on providing care within the community, including offering beds for patients at nursing homes in the area, while creating a health care centre in Sudbury.

But campaigners argued such proposals would not meet the needs of people in the west of the county and had pursued a judicial review to ensure the decision was referred to Ms Hewitt.

A similar referral about proposed cuts in east Suffolk saw Ms Hewitt recommend further discussions on the future of Eye's Hartismere Hospital, although she rejected pleas to save the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe and beds at Aldeburgh Hospital.

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Yesterday, the committee referred the proposals for west Suffolk on the grounds that they were not in the interest of the health service in the area as they would have a detrimental effect on patient care.

It was also agreed the proposals put forward did not have the support of the community, were in need of further exploration and had not been properly consulted on.

Polio sufferer Frances Jackson, who addressed the meeting, said the new care model proposed would not meet her needs as a patient in Sudbury.

Mrs Jackson, who gave a moving address that drew applause from members of public and councillors at the meeting, said afterwards: “I'm absolutely delighted we've got this referral.

“I believe what we are doing is in the best interests of our county. I wouldn't be doing this unless I believed this was the best thing for the people of Sudbury.”

Shirley Crickmere, a member of the Newmarket Health Forum, was also in positive mood.

She said: “When the Health Secretary looks at this I'm sure she will realise these plans are not for the best of the people of west Suffolk.”

Richard Spring MP, whose Tory constituency includes Newmarket, was one of the speakers at the meeting who called on the plans to be referred to the Secretary of State.

He described plans put forward by Suffolk West PCT as “clinically illogical and demonstrating short-term cost-cutting”, adding the number of beds should be “increased and not diminished”.

Afterwards, he spoke of his delight at the possible reprieve for the hospitals and said: “There is no one in my constituency who supported this.”

Speaking after yesterday's verdict, Mike Stonard, chief executive of the PCT, said: “I'm disappointed as I felt we had an extremely good case.

“I think the delay that has been created is not beneficial to health care services in Sudbury and Newmarket. I'm confident that the care model we are proposing is consistent with Government policy and I'm hopeful the Secretary of State will uphold our proposals.”

mark.bulstrode@eadt.co.uk