Hospital cutbacks given the go-ahead

DEFIANT campaigners battling against plans to close every bed in two much-loved community hospitals have warned health bosses they will take their fight to the High Court.

DEFIANT campaigners battling against plans to close every bed in two much-loved community hospitals have warned health bosses they will take their fight to the High Court.

Supporters of Newmarket Hospital and Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital last night vowed to seek legal action after recommendations to close almost 50 inpatient beds were unanimously agreed at a packed board meeting yesterday.

And the full extent of the cutbacks - proposed by Suffolk West Primary Care Trust - were revealed with more than 100 staff at both hospitals facing an uncertain future and bosses describing job cuts as “inevitable”.

Warwick Hirst, chairman of the Newmarket Health Forum, labelled the proposals “crazy” and urged members of Suffolk County Council's health scrutiny committee to refer the matter to the Secretary of State.

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He warned the trust's board: “We will be seeking a judicial review and taking appropriate legal advice over the closure of the beds.

“Newmarket's GPs, hospital staff and residents all wanted community beds and we feel we have been totally ignored by the PCT.”

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Richard Spring, Conservative MP for Suffolk West, said he was “absolutely livid” about the decision to close the remaining rehabilitation beds on Newmarket's Rosemary Ward.

“This really is a sad day for Newmarket. The PCT has taken a sledgehammer to the essential healthcare treatment carried out at the hospital in a desperate and misguided attempt to reduce the PCT's mounting debts,” he said.

“Once again it is the patients and hard-working staff that will suffer the damaging consequences.”

Suffolk South Conservative MP Tim Yeo said he would support any legal challenge if it meant retaining community beds at the Walnuttree Hospital until a new health campus is built at the end of next year .

“I am bitterly disappointed about the bed closures as it runs contrary to all the responses to the consultation period and Government policies supporting community hospitals,” said Mr Yeo.

“But we must keep fighting and I hope the health scrutiny committee will refer the matter on to the Secretary of State - it would be extraordinary if they did not.”

But trust chief executive, Mike Stonard, described the plans as more cost effective - claiming plans to replace the beds with a dozen in the private sector would enable 60% more patients to be seen in some cases for no more money.

He said: “We will be carrying out the changes over a six-month transition period where we will slowly reduce the number of beds.

“Obviously whether the matter is referred to the Secretary of State is a matter for the health scrutiny committee but I hope they will see we have made genuine changes to our proposals.”

Campaigners fearing for the future of their hospital were given a partial reprieve when the trust agreed plans to retain outpatient services at the community facilities - although Sudbury's second hospital, St Leonard's, is set to close and be sold.

Mr Stonard admitted some job cuts were inevitable and that 90 staff in Sudbury and 28 in Newmarket could be affected by the bed closures.

But he hoped most would be retrained in other areas of health care while every effort would be made to find them alternative employment if necessary.

“We have got a good range of highly skilled and experienced clinical professionals working in Newmarket and Sudbury and we will do everything we can to re-deploy them,” he said.

“It is very difficult to say how many job cuts there will be although a small number is inevitable, if only for individual reasons. But it is the trust's policy to keep these cuts to a minimum.”

During a four-month consultation period, the trust said it received almost 2,600 responses and more than 16,000 signature petitions.

The county council's health scrutiny committee - the only authority with the power to refer the decision to central Government - is due to meet on April 27.

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