Hospital cuts 'could cost lives'

ELDERLY people could die as the cash-crippled NHS in Suffolk slashes acute beds and scales back community hospitals, a pensioners' leader claimed last night.

ELDERLY people could die as the cash-crippled NHS in Suffolk slashes acute beds and scales back community hospitals, a pensioners' leader claimed last night.

Jack Thain, chairman of Suffolk Pensioners, believes elderly men and women may have already died due to the cuts taking place – and fears the number could increase when all the cost-saving measures have been implemented.

More than 250 hospital beds in Suffolk will be closed as health trusts try to save millions of pounds from their budgets. Wards and some community hospitals are being shut in a desperate bid by trusts to pay off their debts.

More than 50 beds and two surgeries will close at the West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket Hospital will lose 16 beds and Walnuttree Hospital, Sudbury, has 68 beds and inpatient services being cut. Aldeburgh Hospital has lost the minor injuries unit and 16 beds and one of the two hospitals in Felixstowe is expected to close. Ipswich Hospital is set to cut 80 beds.

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Mr Thain warned elderly people would be particularly vulnerable when health care services were cut or stopped. He claimed there would not be enough beds and people could die at home while they were waiting for care.

He said: ''We are deeply concerned. Suppose your GP says you have to go to hospital but if you are blocked from a hospital bed and consultant care and bundled back into your own bed, you will perhaps not see a nurse or somebody until two days later. You could be dead by then.

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''I think quite honestly that people have already died because of the cutbacks and let's be frank about it, you do not hear all the statistics about death.

''It does worry me especially when you hear that at Ipswich Hospital there were times when people were turned away because they did not have enough beds."

He also voiced fears that people may be asked to pay if they receive treatment in their own home – although hospital officials stress that will not be the case.

Mr Thain added: ''I think the problem is that Suffolk has been short-changed of money for donkey's years and now we have got too far into debt. The only way we can get rid of this is if the government wiped the debt and never allowed it to happen again.''

Hospital officials want to provide more care closer to home where possible, and say the move is supported by many people.

And Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, reassured pensioners they would not have to pay for their care.

She said: ''What we are working towards is to provide more care closer to home under the NHS, so there is no question of paying. The care will be free of charge at the point of need. There is no change in how the care is funded.

''We know that in Suffolk that the number of people aged 85 and over is set to grow in the next five years by 20%. We have more people to care for and they all tell us that we need to care for them in a different way.

''It does not take away their independence and it gives them the opportunity to carry on with their lives. All of the concerns raised by everybody are being taken very seriously indeed by the primary care trust teams.''

A 13-week public consultation over the shake-up of health care in Suffolk starts today.

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