Residents show support for health scheme

ANGRY residents turned out in force last night to express their concern over the future of the proposed Saxmundham one-stop health shop following a controversial funding decision.

By Sarah Chambers

ANGRY residents turned out in force last night to express their concern over the future of the proposed Saxmundham one-stop health shop following a controversial funding decision.

A public meeting at the town's Market Hall was packed with more than 300 people from a wide area stretching as far afield as Rendham, Benhall, Middleton and Yoxford turned out to show support for the project.

Health bosses have come under fire for a decision not to include the innovative scheme, which would bring a wide range of services under one roof, in £1 million pot of funding for projects. They faced further criticism last night for failing to send a representative to the meeting.

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The various elements of the cutting-edge proposed project include a birthing unit, an ambulance station, creche, social care facilities and a diagnostic and treatment centre.

The funding decision, by the primary care trusts (PCTs) in east Suffolk, came as a huge blow to the integrated health and social care project, which had attracted support from Suffolk County Council and other funding bodies.

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Those attending the public meeting were encouraged to launch their own personal letter-writing campaigns, targeting Health Secretary John Reid and the PCTs.

Saxmundham doctors outlined the history of the project at the meeting, which was chaired by town council chairman Richard Smith.

“I think we are all here thinking exactly the same thing,” said Mr Smith. The huge turnout was “very heartening” for those involved in the project, he added.

Local MPs John Gummer and Sir Michael Lord sent their apologies for being unable to attend because of a three-line whip, but sent messages of strong support.

Dr Havard explained how they had struggled to meet the demands of the PCT, even reducing the size of the building by 70% to meet their concerns.

“It's very hard for you to appreciate how we have gone from pillar to post. We have been through delaying tactic after delaying tactic,” he said.

He described how he was taken completely by surprise by the decision of the PCT chief executives to fund five other projects across the county but not theirs - even though it was far more advanced than many of the other schemes.

“I confidently expected we would be top, and of course, we were not. We are at the stage now where we need your help,” he told the audience.

Residents speaking at the meeting said the facilities were “desperately needed” in the growing town.

David Rowe, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, who was at the meeting, expressed the authority's strong support for the project.

“The county council are fully committed to integrated services. We were very disappointed at the decision of the PCT,” he said.

He said the council had written to the PCT to ask to discuss the criteria used for selecting the projects for funding, and questioning how the Saxmundham one had scored so poorly.

“We want the best service for the public, and we believe this would have been at the leading edge. You can count on our support on working with you to provide this needed service for Saxmundham,” he said.

Some members of the audience expressed annoyance that representatives of the PCTs had declined an invitation to attend.

County councillor Rae Leighton, whose ward contains some patients of the surgery, said: “To my mind, it's a zero care trust.”

Fellow county councillor Joan Girling said they could not just “let this slip away”.

“We are going to get it and that's that. This has got to happen and with the determination of local people it will happen. I have no doubt in my mind it will happen,” she said.

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