Pledge to fight hospital beds axe

By Jonathan BarnesCAMPAIGNERS have vowed to fight the closure of community hospital beds in east Suffolk as health bosses prepare for a crunch meeting today.

By Jonathan Barnes

CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to fight the closure of community hospital beds in east Suffolk as health bosses prepare for a crunch meeting today.

The board of Suffolk Coastal Primary Care Trust is being asked to approve plans to cut the number of inpatient beds at Aldeburgh Hospital and the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe.

The move, which is part of an effort to reduce multi-million-pound health debts in Suffolk, would see the number of beds at Aldeburgh Hospital cut from 36 to 20 and the Bartlet Hospital losing half of its 50 inpatient beds.

There are also fears about the long-term future of health care in Felixstowe after trust bosses said the continued provision of two hospitals and two other health properties in the town was “economically unsustainable”.

Residents, health watchdogs, medics and politicians have vowed to fight against any moves to close either the Bartlet or Felixstowe General Hospitals and will make their feelings clear at today's meeting at the town's Elizabeth Orwell Hotel.

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Ian Heeley, from Felixstowe, who is fighting the cutbacks, said: “There is a lot of anger in the town and the general consensus is that they can't take these facilities away from us.

“We are an expanding town and the UK's biggest port and we cannot afford to lose our health services.

“Our message is 'This must not happen' and if a decision is taken to dispose of one or the other of these hospitals, then heads should roll.”

Jenny Brabazon, chairman of the Suffolk Coastal Patient and Public Involvement Forum, said members had been given a stark message by the trust about the situation.

“Our members have been told 'It doesn't matter how much people scream and shout, this is how it's going to be',” she added.

“I am still concerned about what we don't know yet - if anything else is going to hit us.

“I think the loss of the community beds is very bad news. I'm sure that lots of people would like to be treated at home, but I think will have major problems training and recruiting for that service.

“Everybody seems to be blaming each other, but there does seem to be little room for manoeuvre and we should bear in mind the national pressures and background.”

No decision on the long-term future of health services in Felixstowe will be made at the meeting, but a detailed review of the town's four health premises will be launched.

Aside from the two hospitals, the review includes a house in Constable Road, used for chiropody for many years, and an annexe to the Bartlet Hospital.

Supporters of Aldeburgh Hospital fear the recommendation to reduce beds there will be given the green light, despite their concerns it will make it less viable. Health officials have also recommended closing its minor injuries unit.

Dr Ian Tait, president of the League of Friends of Aldeburgh and District Community Hospital, said: “There is no case for reducing to 20 beds, other than quite destructive financial decisions.

“We are now looking at any ways we can support beds. There are charities that supported beds in the old days of cottage hospitals. We'll try to explore other kinds of avenues to keep those beds available to local people.”

The NHS in east Suffolk is battling crippling debts of more than £18million and health bodies are required to balance their books by the end of 2005-6.

A trust spokesman said: “The challenge is to change the way that care is provided, bringing more care closer to home, moving away from a bed-based culture to one that is service-led.”

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