Hospital closures put on hold

CAMPAIGNERS have spoken of their delight after two under-threat Suffolk hospitals were given a last-minute lifeline.Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee has voted to refer a decision on the possible closure of services in the east of the county to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

CAMPAIGNERS have spoken of their delight after two under-threat Suffolk hospitals were given a last-minute lifeline.

Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee has voted to refer a decision on the possible closure of services in the east of the county to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

This means a temporary reprieve for the Bartlet Hospital, in Felixstowe, Hartismere Hospital, in Eye, and 20 beds at Aldeburgh Hospital.

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), last night accused the committee of letting down people in east Suffolk by making the move.

But Jane Hore, chair of the committee, said there was a lack of “trust” in the PCTs.

The meeting, held yesterdayat Suffolk County Council's headquarters, in Russell Road, Ipswich, heard there were grave concerns among members about the proposed cuts.

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Roy Gray, chairman of Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals, was delighted with the outcome.

He said: “We're very pleased the committee has made a decision to refer it to the minister.

“It's a victory for us but there's still a lot of hard work to do. What we're doing is fighting for the people of Suffolk and I hope the health minister will see it in that light.”

Helen Tucker, of the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends and Action Group, said: “I'm absolutely delighted.

“It means there will be an independent assessment of the basis for these proposals. Thank goodness we have a scrutiny committee and these proposals can be checked for their full impact on Suffolk.

“Their impact would've been dramatic. This buys us a bit of time to manage these changes in a much more measured way.”

However, Peter Griffiths, a trustee of the Friends of Aldeburgh Hospital, was disappointed at the referral.

He said: “There's the possibility that the situation for Aldeburgh Hospital could be improved and less beds cut by going to the secretary of state.

“But on the downside, the situation the staff are facing is fraught because they don't know what's going to happen to their jobs. Now they will have a longer period of uncertainty.

“I think, overall, I'm disappointed at this referral because I think it would've been better to have sorted it out.”

Mrs Taylor-Brown was also disappointed at the decision, which will halt work on reforming the county's health system.

She said: “I think the committee has let the staff and the people of east Suffolk down but I understand it has a role to play.

“I'm very disappointed for the people of east Suffolk. We could've seen some huge advances in the county's health service which would've made a huge difference to them.

“This decision will certainly slow us down. Our staff have really committed themselves to these changes and will be disappointed.”

Mrs Hore, a Labour county councillor, refuted Mrs Taylor-Brown's accusations and said she did not believe the referral would cause a lengthy delay in resolving the issue.

She added the committee came to its decision after deciding it could not “trust” the PCTs to carry out changes to the health service, with great uncertainty surrounding the future of the body.

She said: “It was a very difficult decision. It's not about having a distrust of the people, it's the system.

“It was compounded by the reconfiguration issues. We know that every time we have a change in the health system the new people are not bound by previous decisions.”

Talks are currently under way that will see the current system of PCTs reorganised, possibly into a single health body for the whole county.

Although the committee voted 10-1 to refer the hospital cuts to the Government, the committee backed changes to the mental health services in the area.

This means Ipswich's Bridge House and The Hollies, Old Fox House, in Stowmarket, which provide services for people with mental health problems, will be closed and services instead offered within the community. Day hospitals offering services to elderly people with mental health problems in Kesgrave, Saxmundham and Stowmarket will also be axed.

The health scrutiny committee is set discuss West Suffolk PCT's proposals for change at a later date.

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