Victory in campaign to save hospital

THE closure-threatened Walnuttree Hospital has been saved after a hard-fought campaign by the East Anglian Daily Times and the people of Sudbury.West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Chris Bown announced yesterday that he intends to invest up to £300,000 in keeping the hospital open until 2007, when a new hospital is planned to be built in the town.

THE closure-threatened Walnuttree Hospital has been saved after a hard-fought campaign by the East Anglian Daily Times and the people of Sudbury.

West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Chris Bown announced yesterday that he intends to invest up to £300,000 in keeping the hospital open until 2007, when a new hospital is planned to be built in the town.

Early last month health bosses announced the 68-bed former workhouse may have to close due to fire risks, sparking outcry from the people of west Suffolk and prompting the launch of the EADT's Hands off our Hospital campaign.

The campaign has been taken to the highest levels of Government, with campaigners marching on London to deliver a 10,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street.


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But just as campaigners were about to step up the fight with a 24-hour vigil outside the ageing hospital in the run up to a crunch meeting on its future, the Walnuttree's reprieve was announced.

A trust spokesman said an independent review of fire safety had shown that the state of the hospital was “manageable”, and with a degree of investment, safety improvements could be made and fire alarms and sprinklers could be updated to ensure the hospital can stay open.

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Mr Bown said yesterday: “Having reviewed the recommendations from Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, I wanted to share these with the people of Sudbury as soon as possible.

“Without this review and assessment process we were not working with the most comprehensive information with regards to patient safety which is why the independent report was commissioned.

“Now we know the condition of the building and the work that needs to be carried out to ensure the facilities at the Walnuttree can remain open until 2007. I believe that it is an acceptable level of investment and I will authorise the work to be carried out.”

The news has been greeted with delight by campaigners fighting to save the 168-year-old building, among whom was Kevin Craig, Labour parliamentary candidate for Sudbury, and the man behind both the Downing Street petition and tomorrow night's now-cancelled vigil.

He said: “This is a very happy day for the people of Sudbury, it's absolutely wonderful news. I think my overriding feeling is one of massive and overwhelming relief.

“The EADT has been absolutely fantastic and I genuinely believe that if wasn't for the EADT this campaign would never have managed to bring so many people together in common purpose. As a local newspaper the EADT has done a fantastic job.”

While welcoming the news South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo, who backed the campaign, last night slammed the trust for they way in which they handled the matter.

He said: “Obviously it's great news, but I think the fact that they have managed to now find £300,000 shows how scandalous and shabby their attempt to close the Walnuttree was.

“They have obviously been taken aback by the extent of opposition and the passion of the people and they have backed down and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms for the needless anxiety they have cause to the staff, patients and their families.”

A spokesman for the trust defended the manner in which the potential closure had been handled and said that while they acknowledged the strength of feeling, patient and staff safety had always been paramount.

The spokesman said they did not consider the decision a “u-turn” as they had never said the hospital would close and added: “Early indications were that there might be a significant fire safety risk and at that time it was good management practice to talk about contingencies and staff and patients needed to be involved in that which is why we were open and honest.”

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