Legal challenge starts over Walnuttree

THE bitter battle over health services in a market town moved a step closer to the High Court last night when solicitors acting on behalf of two Suffolk pensioners began judicial review proceedings.

THE bitter battle over health services in a market town moved a step closer to the High Court last night when solicitors acting on behalf of two Suffolk pensioners began judicial review proceedings.

Defiant campaigners revealed they had no regrets over taking the unprecedented step to save inpatient beds at Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital and a new health centre in the town.

But it comes at a time when fears have been voiced about the future of the new campus, now believed to be at least six months behind schedule.

Concerned campaigners claimed they had no choice but to begin judicial review proceedings after the board of Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) unanimously agreed to axe all beds at the threatened Sudbury hospital.


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Then Suffolk County Council's health scrutiny committee opted not to refer the decision to the Secretary of State - despite doing so in the east of the county.

Now 60-year-old Frances Jackson, of Great Cornard, and Lavenham resident Edith Turner have joined forces to push through the drastic legal bid.

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Mrs Jackson, who suffers from post polio syndrome and is paralysed in one leg, said: “I have no regrets over the decision as I still believe I am doing the right thing. I have never done anything like this before but somebody has to be prepared to make this stand.

“But how sad and shameful it is that two elderly and disabled pensioners have to be the ones to put up a fight where others, like the PCT and the scrutiny committee, have failed.

“We need inpatient beds in Sudbury - even if there was only about 20 in the new campus, that would be a compromise.

“We are hearing that there are considerable delays over the new health centre. We are no nearer to knowing what is going on and I think people in Sudbury are beginning to think it might never materialise.”

The current problems over services at the Walnuttree have been heightened by growing concern over the timetable for the new health centre, originally planned for late 2007.

Peter Clifford, member of both the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee and the new health centre steering group, said: “I can confirm that we were told at the last meeting that unless a planning application was submitted now, the health centre would not be completed by March 2008.

“But the steering group still has to see the plans first and it could be at least a couple of months before that happens so it might be delayed even more.

“Clearly there are delays regardless of the judicial review and there is now a lot of concern in the town.”

Last night, the PCT warned the move could cost it “hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees”.

Chief executive Mike Stonard said: “We're very disappointed the matter has now gone to judicial review, as we feel it will be a pointless process.

“We are confident we carried out our consultation in a proper and robust fashion taking on board a wide range of views. This was supported by the Patient and Public Involvement Forum, and independent experts from the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

“A judicial review will delay developments in Sudbury - and the whole of west Suffolk - by six to 12 months with no guarantees of a different decision at the end.”

The trust said its planned changes will all now have to be put on hold.

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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