Last chance to halt hospital cuts

CAMPAIGNERS across west Suffolk made an eleventh hour plea last night for community hospital cutbacks to be referred to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

CAMPAIGNERS across west Suffolk made an eleventh hour plea last night for community hospital cutbacks to be referred to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Defiant protestors in Newmarket and Sudbury - faced with losing vital hospital beds in their community - have issued the call ahead of a meeting today of Suffolk's health scrutiny committee.

It has the power to refer Suffolk West Primary Care Trust's agreed cuts to the likes of Walnuttree and St Leonards hospitals in Sudbury, as well as Newmarket Hospital, to Mrs Hewitt for a final decision.

Community leaders and action group members have put forward their last-ditch concerns to the crunch meeting - but said they would fight on regardless of the outcome.

Warwick Hirst, Newmarket mayor and chairman of the town's health forum, said: “Our main concern is that people within the town - and I mean GPs, medical staff and carers as well as residents - believe an intermediate hospital ward is the best way to care for people.

“There have been no facts or figures about what the PCT is proposing - there have been no details about what has been trialled and no feedback from patients.

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“If the scrutiny committee decision does delay these changes, I think it would be wonderful news as I think the PCT proposals are awful.”

Earlier this month, the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust unanimously agreed to close all inpatient beds at Newmarket Hospital and Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital.

But their decision to safeguard the immediate future of both facilities - by retaining all outpatient services - did little to placate concerned campaigners.

Michael Mandlestam , member of Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, said members were hopeful the matter would be referred to the Department of Health - as they did with similar proposals in east Suffolk earlier this year.

“We believe the consultation was inadequate and overall the PCT proposals are not in line with patient's interest,” Mr Mandlestam said.

“They have proposed just six community beds in Sudbury when in March 2005, we had 68 beds at the Walnuttree - these small amount of beds are nothing more than a smokescreen.”

“It is a very important day for the campaign but WHAC will continue fighting whatever the decision.”

The PCT agreed to replace the inpatient beds with a dozen beds in the private sector to cover the two areas.

The much-loved Walnuttree Hospital would also take on all services from the town's second hospital, St Leonard's, which would then close and be sold.

The health scrutiny committee has the power to refer all, some or none of the PCT's decisions to the Health Secretary who would then make a decision within two months.

Committee vice-chairman Frank Warby said last night: “We will be looking at the merits of the PCT's proposals and weighing that up with the evidence against the plans.

“Our overriding concern must be for the patients over a long term and not just for now.”

No one was available for comment from the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust.

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