Hospital decision inquiry demand

By Patrick LowmanA LEADING councillor has called for an investigation into the way a health trust handled the situation surrounding a 68-bed hospital that was saved from closure.

By Patrick Lowman

A LEADING councillor has called for an investigation into the way a health trust handled the situation surrounding a 68-bed hospital that was saved from closure.

Suffolk County Council executive member Kathy Pollard said she was concerned over the way West Suffolk Hospitals Trust had dealt with a decision on the future of Sudbury's ageing Walnuttree Hospital.

The trust recently announced it would spend about £300,000 on fire safety improvements to keep the 168-bed hospital open until its long-awaited £20million replacement was opened in 2007.


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But the trust had previously said it would be forced to close the hospital if an independent fire review that it commissioned said the building was a safety hazard.

Although the report said the hospital was a hazard that would cost about £3m to make it fully compliant with safety requirements, the trust decided to carry out short-term work after consultations with Suffolk Fire Service.

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The fire service said the hospital was manageable until 2007 as long as medial work was carried out.

Mrs Pollard said she felt the trust's board members had only been presented with information that was loaded towards closure and was particularly concerned that they had been told at a board meeting that they could face corporate manslaughter charges if lives were lost during a fire at Walnuttree Hospital.

“I am extremely concerned about the way this whole issue was handled. It has demoralised the staff and left the public very cynical about the motives of the West Suffolk Hospitals Trust,” she added.

“Board members should have been made aware that they would not be blamed as long as reasonable steps had been taken to comply with fire safety regulations. The case was presented to trust board members in a way that made it look like closure was the only option.”

Mrs Pollard has now written to the trust's chief executive, Chris Bown, with a list of questions over the way the situation was handled.

She added: “I hope the trust will learn lessons from this and I think it should carry out its own investigation in the way the matter was handled or call in an outside body to investigate.”

A trust spokesman said Mr Bown has received an e-mail from Mrs Pollard and would be responding to her shortly.

patrick.lowman@eadt.co.uk

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