Hospital closure 'not cost-cutting'

A HEALTH chief has denied allegations that the potential closure of a Suffolk hospital is a cost-cutting measure – and says alternative packages of care may prove more expensive.

A HEALTH chief has denied allegations that the potential closure of a Suffolk hospital is a cost-cutting measure - and says alternative packages of care may prove more expensive.

Speaking exclusively to the EADT yesterday, West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Chris Bownsaid no decision had yet been made on the future of 68 inpatient beds at the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury.

The future of the hospital hangs in the balance due to concerns over fire safety.

But Mr Bown stressed rumours the potential closure was due to a projected £4m deficit were inaccurate, adding that alternative care provided within patients' homes could prove more expensive.

He said: "It is completely wrong to be suspicious this is about saving money, as it will not save any money. People have said this will help balance our books, but the alternative models of care may cost more, as quite often, community care is not a cheaper option."

But campaigners supporting the EADT's campaign to keep the hospital open say they feel short-changed by the potential closure - and insist a behind-closed-doors decision on the Walnuttree's future has already been taken.

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Nick Irwin, Suffolk county councillor, said: "They are trying anything possible to confuse the issue.

"This is about money. The health service says the treatment these patients get wherever they go will be just as good as they are getting now, but it won't - as the treatment won't be in Sudbury."

But Mr Bown said he had commissioned an independent fire risk report after arriving in Suffolk as he felt "uncomfortable" with safety at the ageing 1830s building.

Suffolk Fire Service completed a report on the former workhouse last year, and various recommendations - such as the addition of fire doors - were then followed.

However, these suggestions, said Mr Bown, were given on the basis that the new Sudbury hospital would be provided within the near future.

"As a new chief executive, I wanted, as indeed the board did, to be reassured that patients and staff were safe, and as a consequence I commissioned the independent fire risk report," said Mr Bown, who said the possible closure was not linked to the trust's bid for foundation status.

"This will look at the balance of risk and the costs of ensuring patients and staff can remain safe for the medium term, until such time as new facilities are developed by the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT).

"If the costs are high, we have got to take a judgement about whether the money is best spent on an 1830s building or a new facility suited for the 21st Century. If it means relocating current services from Sudbury, that is what we will do."

Mr Bown said the risk assessment had been commissioned to establish if safety issues would be manageable until new facilities were developed in the town.

However, the new hospital for Sudbury has hit several stumbling blocks recently, and an outline business case for the project has yet to be approved.

But Mr Bown said he was "absolutely sure" new facilities would eventually be provided, and moved to reassure patients and their families that provision would be put in place should the Walnuttree close.

"We have asked the PCT and social care to look at the contingency plans for putting in place alternative arrangements for all the patients. We will have a care package in place for each patient if there is a need to relocate services.

"We have spoken to the unions and it is certainly not the intention that we see redundancies as a consequence.

"We have got skilled health care workers in Sudbury and we will ensure they have alternative jobs, which may be in patients' homes or wherever the best care may be delivered."