Update: Health chiefs under fire after admissions to Southwold Hospital are suspended due to nurse shortages.

New admissions to the hospital have been suspended for three months – with hospitals in Halesworth, Beccles and Great Yarmouth also running at reduced capacity.

Health chiefs faced criticism last night after suspending new admissions to a Suffolk community hospital for three months – fuelling fears it could prematurely closure.

Not enough staff can be found to run Southwold Hospital safely, according to East Coast Community Healthcare (ECCH).

The hospital is already proposed for closure – with a public consultation period under way – but there had been previous assurances it would stay open until adequate replacement services were up and running.

Now health chiefs admit their proposals have made it hard to recruit staff at Southwold, leading to the hospital’s premature closure to new inpatient admissions.

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The decision on whether to lift the suspension will be reviewed in November.

Last night, John Perkins, chairman of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said: “We are wondering if the hospital is going to reopen. We are talking here about very elderly, very ill patients.

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“The last thing we wanted was for the hospital to close and see people put in hospital miles from home, miles from relatives.

“The fact that this has happened before a decision has even been made doesn’t bode well for the future.”

Patients are instead being directed to the Patrick Stead Hospital, Halesworth, Beccles Community Hospital or Northgate Hospital, Great Yarmouth – however these will also be running at reduced capacity due to the nursing shortages.

Jonathan Williams, chief executive of ECCH said: “This has not been an easy decision but patient safety must come first.

“We will have a vacancy rate of 40% amongst our trained nursing staff in our community hospitals; this includes sickness absence, maternity leave and vacancies.

“This is largely due to uncertainty around the public consultation that is running at the moment, and it has been difficult to recruit new staff until a clear future is decided.

“Patient and staff safety is our priority. Continuing to admit patients to three of the four hospitals is the best outcome in this very difficult situation.”

The issues come during a public consultation into proposals to close the Patrick Stead Hospital in Halesworth along with Southwold Hospital.

But in June, chief executive of the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Andy Evans, pledged they would not be closed until adequate new facilities are up and running.

The proposal is for the hospital beds to be substituted with “beds with care” in local care homes in the two towns.

In Halesworth, this would include a new purpose-built, privately-run care home which would have some NHS beds.

The CCG also intends to introduce out-of-hospital doctors, nurses and other health and social care staff to provide care in the community and patients’ homes, while inpatient beds at Beccles Hospital would look after people who needed more immediate care.

Last night, cabinet member for health at Suffolk County Council, Tony Goldson, said: “I’m disappointed. When staff at the hospital find out that there’s a possibility they are going to close the hospital they are going to start looking for new jobs elsewhere.

“It’s incumbent on ECCH to employ staff and maintain it. They have reduced the number of beds in Halesworth from 12 to 10 which again is to do with staff shortages.

“We have patients in these two areas that need beds. We haven’t got those beds at the moment. The James Paget Hospital is full. It makes a mockery of this system.”

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