Peer backs hospital campaign

A LIFE peer has thrown his weight behind a campaign to safeguard the future of a 68-bed hospital – and has called on the community to "rise up" and fight the plans.

A LIFE peer has thrown his weight behind a campaign to safeguard the future of a 68-bed hospital – and has called on the community to "rise up" and fight the plans.

Lawyer Lord Phillips said a full consultation on the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury was vital after health chiefs revealed they might close the facility on health and safety grounds.

He described this as "unthinkable" until a firm decision was made on long awaited plans for a new £20m hospital in the town – a project which has been dogged by delays.

West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust says it would be forced to close the Walnuttree to inpatients if it fails an independent fire risk assessment due to be published at the end of the month.

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But backing the EADT's Hands Off Our Hospital campaign, Lord Phillips said: "I find it very strange that they are trying to rush through something which could have the gravest consequences in the town.

"At the very least there has to be a pause during which there is a proper consultation where thousands of people who use the hospital can be given the true facts. I have to say if this is really a health and safety issue then it is just another example of the tail wagging the dog, if you like.

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"To say they have to close because of the risk of the building, I would need some special reason why something can't be done to maintain the hospital for the next few years.

"Unless this happens, the town should rise up and express its determination not to have this decision steamrolled through."

The West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust said it might have to close the 168-year-old building if it fails an independent fire assessment at the end of month – prompting fears of "intolerable" pressures on health services across west Suffolk.

Trust chief executive Chris Bown told the EADT last week he had commissioned the fire risk report as he felt "uncomfortable" with safety at the ageing 1830s building.

He added: "It is completely wrong to be suspicious this is about saving money, as it will not save any money. People have said this will help balance our books, but the alternative models of care may cost more, as quite often, community care is not a cheaper option."

Describing the importance of the hospital in the local community, Lord Phillips said: "The Walnuttree has the most wonderful reputation for good nursing in an age where that virtue is not very common. This could be destroyed overnight."

Lord Phillips said he could remember the hospital from when his father was chairman of the original management committee when the National Health Service was established in 1948 .

"I can remember walking around the hospital when I was a small boy in the late 1940s," he said. "I have since been to the hospital so many times as a user and visitor and for my whole family. Many other people in the town can tell the same tale."

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