Towns lose 24-hour minor injuries units

By David Lennard and David GreenRESIDENTS are facing up to a 50-mile round-trip for hospital treatment if they injure themselves in the evening or at weekends.

By David Lennard and David Green

RESIDENTS are facing up to a 50-mile round-trip for hospital treatment if they injure themselves in the evening or at weekends.

The Patrick Stead Hospital in Halesworth, Beccles Community Hospital and the Southwold Surgery used to run a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week minor injury service.

But the minor injuries centres in Halesworth and Southwold will now only open from 8am to 6.30pm from Monday to Friday, under changes announced by Waveney Primary Care Trust.

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The unit at Beccles Hospital will still be open seven days a week, but only from 8am to 10pm.

People who injure themselves outside these times will have to visit the accident and emergency departments at Ipswich Hospital, James Paget Hospital in Gorleston or the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for treatment.

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Les Hills, chairman of the Patrick Stead Hospital League of Friends, said: “This is very worrying and will make life so much more difficult for the elderly or anyone injuring themselves at night or at weekends and find they face such a long journey to get treatment.

“It will not only affect people living in Halesworth and Southwold, but those from all the nearby villages and is a real blow to those living in the rural areas.”

Mr Hills added there had been a worrying trend in recent years of services being taken away from smaller community hospitals and centralised at the major centres.

The changes were introduced after studies showed the minor injuries units in Halesworth, Southwold and Beccles were not being well used out of hours.

Andy Evans, chief executive of Waveney Primary Care Trust, said: “This means that we are staffing units which have very few patients at night.

“For example, in one three-month period at Beccles Hospital we saw 1,620 patients in total, with just 56 of them attending between the hours of 10pm and 8am. That works out to just 0.3%.”

Meanwhile, campaigners have pledged to fight plans by a health trust to turn part of a rural hospital into a care home.

The proposals by the Central Suffolk Primary Care Trust are included in its preferred option for the future of Hartismere Hospital in Eye, where most of the care is geared towards elderly people.

But the hospital's League of Friends is putting forward its preferred option - for a cottage hospital with beds for all age groups.

The trust has been considering a range of options for Hartismere Hospital and has decided to back plans to create a community hospital with a range of clinics and a greater emphasis on caring for people in their own homes.

The number of beds is already due to be reduced from 45 to 32 by the end of the year.

But the trust's preferred option also included plans to establish a private sector care home on the site and for the NHS to contract for the use of beds it required.

Eric Havers, chairman of the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends, said the community wanted a cottage hospital set up with beds for all ages - and all beds under the control of the NHS - not turned into a care home.

“We like the idea of an extended range of clinic and the hospital becoming a minor accident and emergency centre,” he added.

“We would support the idea of caring for people in their homes, but this should be developed before they start closing beds down, not after it.”

The sale of some of the land on the hospital site could finance the creation of “very sheltered” accommodation, which would fit in with the care in the home philosophy.

“We also want money raised from the sale of land to be ring-fenced - put to use on the site, not put into a hole which will be used to pay off the trust's deficit,” said Mr Havers.

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