Hundreds back fight to save hospital

By Richard SmithMORE than 500 people have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by an MP at a campaign launched to save a hospital from closure.They pledged their support to a hastily-convened plan to stop the Felixstowe General Hospital from shutting.

By Richard Smith

MORE than 500 people have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by an MP at a campaign launched to save a hospital from closure.

They pledged their support to a hastily-convened plan to stop the Felixstowe General Hospital from shutting. There will be petitions, a letter-writing campaign and a fighting fund to support the plan.

It was only five days ago that it first became apparent that the hospital's future was under threat, but by Saturday there was so much support in Felixstowe to keep the hospital open that hundreds of people attended a public meeting to fight the closure.


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Carole Taylor-Brown, interim chief executive of the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts, told the meeting: "We have been given a very clear directive from the strategic health authority to review our financial recovery plan.

"Across the three primary care trusts of Suffolk Central, Suffolk Coastal and Ipswich we have an underlying deficit.

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"This is the money we are actually spending over that we are given and that is £18.4million. In addition to that underlying deficit we have a debt of £21m across the three primary care trusts.

"We have a very heavily committed budget. We need to find £18.4m and we have to make a significant impact on our financial debt. That is quite a steep challenge, as you can imagine.

"There is no plan on the table with regard to Felixstowe at the moment. It is on a long list of options that we will consider and we have to put to the board at the end of the month."

But John Gummer, Suffolk Coastal MP, said: "I do not want a decision about the closure of the hospital in Felixstowe to take place without those in charge recognising just how strongly people in Felixstowe think about it. There should be a massive public protest.

"What we have is the strategic health authority, a body who hails from Peterborough, who have told the primary care trust that it must take extremely severe measures in order to do something in this year to get back on the rails to save money.

"It is unbelievably inappropriate and impossible to ask a body of this size to save £18.4m inside a year without disrupting its services. It is also clearly not possible to save anything towards the £21m of debt."

He added: "I have had a meeting with the strategic health authority. We have to stiffen the sinews of this body and tell the main people running it you will have to tell the Government it cannot be done.

"There is no way we can maintain proper services in Felixstowe, Ipswich, Hartismere, and east Suffolk if you ask us to save money in this year. It cannot be done. We want the time for the organisation that has got it wrong to put it right.

"We do not want to pay the price in Felixstowe for the mistakes of other people. It is not sustainable for people to have to go from Felixstowe to Ipswich, but it is sustainable for a small number to come from Ipswich Hospital to Felixstowe.

"We cannot put back these clinics into doctors' surgeries, and bits and pieces in the Bartlet Hospital and cubby holes. That would be to go backwards in a town that we expect to go forward."

Martin Smith, vice-chairman of the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts, said: "Suffolk historically, including the former Suffolk Health Authority, always managed to spend more than it got.

"We received from the Government 90% of the average spending across the country and we have been providing a service as if we were receiving £100 for every £100 we spent.

"We need to have more time to carry out the plans laid by Carole Taylor-Brown, otherwise the board will be forced into making very hard decisions. There will have to be cuts in services and we either need more time, more money or cuts in services."

richard.smith@eadt.co.uk

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