MP vows to save town's hospital

By Richard SmithAN urgent campaign will be launched tomorrow to save a hospital from closing to save millions of pounds.Felixstowe General Hospital is in danger of being shut to ease the £18million debt facing the area's health service.

By Richard Smith

AN urgent campaign will be launched tomorrow to save a hospital from closing to save millions of pounds.

Felixstowe General Hospital is in danger of being shut to ease the £18million debt facing the area's health service.

The hospital in Constable Road could be demolished, with the land sold for a housing development, which would generate vital funds for the cash-strapped Suffolk Coastal Primary Care Trust.

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John Gummer, Suffolk Coastal MP, will hold a public meeting tomorrow from 3pm to 5pm at the Elizabeth Orwell Hotel, Felixstowe, to discuss an action plan to save the hospital.

Mr Gummer said it would be "utterly unacceptable" to close the hospital and added: "It would be very serious if it closed.

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"As I understand it they are seriously thinking they can put the clinics in the Felixstowe General Hospital back in the doctors' surgeries. This is really returning back 20 years.

"I don't know whether there will be more closures than Felixstowe, all I do know is that it has been confirmed that the closure of Felixstowe will be on the agenda.

"What I want to say to the health authority is 'Don't you begin to go down there, don't you think for one moment we will put up with that'. The purpose of having the public meeting is to begin the battle because I don't want this health authority to think it can do this without a very, very major battle.''

Jan Rowsell, a trust spokeswoman, said when it launched its Fresher Future for Felixstowe project, it wanted to redevelop Felixstowe General Hospital and it needed to ask the strategic health authority for money for capital investment.

"The strategic health authority has come back and said we think you need to look again at this in light of the financial challenges you face. On Wednesday there was a project meeting of a team of people, including local people involved in the redevelopment of Felixstowe General Hospital," she added.

"The project director said the strategic health authority had told us to look again and would have to look at all of the possible options and one is that we would have to relocate.

"But, an options paper will go to the Suffolk Coastal Primary Care Trust board on June 29 because it is the board who will make a decision about how we go forward. At no stage was it said that Felixstowe general hospital will close."

A meeting was held yesterday between the Patient and Public Involvement Forum for Suffolk Coastal and the trust to discuss the future of the hospital.

Jenny Brabazon, forum chairman, said: "We understand that various options are now being considered for locating services.

"However, it is a betrayal of patients, the public and staff after two years of public consultation and assurances from two primary care trust chief executives that this decision has been taken.

"At recent meetings, we have seen a lot of excellent work being done by local NHS staff to plan the reconfiguration of services and this is extremely upsetting and disappointing.

"The decision, which is rightly causing consternation in the community, as has happened in Saxmundham and elsewhere, shows that the NHS is not fulfilling the stated aims of Government policy and the financial situation effectively makes that impossible."

The trust was due to turn the hospital in Constable Road into an outpatient unit with extra clinics and services at a cost of more than £160,000.

The new facilities were to include a school dental service, speech therapy, health visitors' base, children's clinics, a podiatry department, services to be brought from Ipswich Hospital, an audiology room and the transfer of a physio from the Bartlet Hospital annexe.

Jan Ormondroyd, chief executive of Suffolk Coastal District council, has met Carole Taylor-Brown, interim chief executive of the East Suffolk Primary Care Trust, who confirmed at the time it was still its intention to develop the hospital's facilities.

Cyril Webb, mayor of Felixstowe, said the hospital fulfilled a vital role in the town and provided an excellent service.

He added: "I am absolutely staggered – I thought this whole situation had been sorted out. The people of Felixstowe deserve better.

"It's unbelievable that they can be thinking that way. Everyone seemed very pleased with the plans which were put forward and I thought they were going ahead."

Retired GP Alan Wimhurst, who represented the League of Friends of Felixstowe Hospitals at meeting to consider its future, said: "The effect of the savings that are needed is that no money is to be spent on the conversion of Felixstowe General at all and, in fact, it must be considered whether it should be closed and disposed of.

"The 24 outpatient clinics could be dispersed to GP surgeries around the town, while the health visitors would have to go and also the district nurses – it would be mayhem.

"It is an acute and desperate situation and I think Felixstowe is about to lose out very badly. The local managers are pretty miserable about it, but they have no option."

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