New Suffolk hospital plan revealed

RENEWED fears were voiced last night over the future shape of healthcare in Suffolk after it emerged that one of the county's busiest hospitals is to be replaced.

Laurence Cawley

RENEWED fears were voiced last night over the future shape of healthcare in Suffolk after it emerged that one of the county's busiest hospitals is to be replaced.

Bosses at the 480-bed West Suffolk Hospital, which serves 275,000 people, revealed they were looking to build a brand new “healthcare campus” in Bury St Edmunds.

The surprise announcement comes amid fears for the future of the Bury hospital's children's ward after the East of England Strategic Health Authority backed proposals questioning whether all inpatient paediatric services were needed.

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It also comes in the wake of controversial decisions to shift head and neck cancer services out of Ipswich Hospital to Norfolk and to close the Walnuttree and St Leonards hospitals in Sudbury.

The raft of changes sweeping through the county has led some to fear for the future of Suffolk's healthcare system.

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Campaigners have expressed concern that Ipswich Hospital would effectively be downgraded in the future, with the further loss of some specialist services. However, health chiefs have consistently spoken of their confidence in Ipswich Hospital's future.

Managers at West Suffolk Hospital claim a new hospital is needed because the current Hardwick Lane site has become too old and cramped to continue delivering modern health services. They claim the idea is at such an early stage they cannot say which services would be provided at the new site, once it is chosen.

But Richard Spring, West Suffolk MP, said he was concerned for the future of healthcare provision and questioned whether the end result might be a smaller hospital offering fewer services.

“What does this mean?” he asked. “It would be lovely to have a new hospital but are they going to cut down on what they are providing? Is this a wheeze to cut services, I just don't know.”

Explaining the new hospital idea, Chris Bown, chief executive at West Suffolk, said: “One of our board's key roles is to plan for the future to ensure healthcare provision and the environment in which it is delivered meets the needs of patients now and in years to come.

“The Hardwick Lane site has changed dramatically since West Suffolk Hospital was first opened in 1973. Advances in healthcare and a rapidly growing population have resulted in a continuous programme of expansion, and improvements to the site are continuing with the board recently approving nearly £3m of investment in a new endoscopy unit and pharmacy.

“Longer term plans, which look at provision of healthcare up to 20 years ahead, highlight concern that poor access to the current site and age of the buildings may restrict the ability of the trust to deliver its vision of a modern 'healthcare campus'.

“However, it will be difficult to redevelop on the same site.

“For this reason, we feel it is sensible to submit a request to St Edmundsbury Borough Council to consider the identification of a site for building a new hospital in its Local Development Framework, which runs until 2031.”

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council confirmed it had been approached by the trust requesting the council's help to find a new site.

“We are in the early stages of discussing this exciting proposal with West Suffolk Hospital,” the spokeswoman said.

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