Campaigners shock at hospital times

Wednesday, 5 July, 2006

HOSPITAL campaigners spoke of their disbelief last night after it emerged the Government is preparing to build 50 new community hospitals - at the same time as three in Suffolk face closure.

No word has been heard from Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt since she was asked to intervene in proposals to close Hartismere Hospital in Eye, the Bartlet in Felixstowe and to axe a number of beds at Aldeburgh Hospital.

The plans, which had been drawn up by primary care trusts in east Suffolk in a desperate bid to claw back overspending of millions of pounds, were referred to Ms Hewitt by the county's health scrutiny committee in February.

However, proposals to reconfigure health services in the west of the county, including the closure of St Leonard's at Sudbury and the closure of all beds at the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury and Newmarket, were accepted by councillors on the scrutiny committee.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said he had heard 'nothing at all' from the Secretary of State. 'It is surprising, given that her decision is not difficult because the case for retaining the hospitals is overwhelming. To destroy these hospitals will in no sense meet the under funding facing the primary care trusts in east Suffolk,' he said.

Mr Gummer said it would be amazing if the Government was prepared to open up to 50 new community hospitals in England when closing one and a half - the Bartlet and a number of beds in Aldeburgh - in his constituency.

In the House of Commons this afternoon, Ms Hewitt will announce that a new generation of up to 50 new NHS community hospitals are to be built in England and she will ask for NHS trusts which want to start building this financial year to put in bids by the end of September.

Campaigners last night spoke of their hope the development could help Suffolk's closure-threatened hospitals.

Roy Gray, of Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals, said: 'I'm pleased to hear the Government has recognised the value of community hospitals. Having heard this, I would obviously be very disappointed if the Bartlet was closed.'

Helen Tucker, of the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends, said: 'We're hoping it through us a bit of a lifeline.

'Clearly each community hospital needs to develop its own business case but I'm certain many hospitals under threat of closure could provide superb care, including Hartismere.'

Frances Jackson, of the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, hoped the Government announcement would ensure a community hospital is established in the Sudbury area.

The Department of Health refused to comment ahead of the Health Secretary's announcement and was not able to indicate when the decision on east Suffolk hospitals would be made.

Meanwhile, two MPs are to send a petition complaining about health funding in the county to Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) and David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) met the Rev Jonathan Ford outside Parliament to receive the petition containing 1,001 signatures from the Bury area.

'We will be sending it directly to Patricia Hewitt to make her clearly aware of the depth of feeling among residents in Suffolk about the damage being done to the local health services due to the unfair level of funding from the Government,' said Mr Ruffley.