Healthcare in rural Suffolk took a giant step forward today (Saturday) with the opening of a new community hospital.

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Crowds flocked to the Hartismere Hospital, now known as Hartismere Health and Care, in Eye following a £1.5 refurbishment project which included a new-look reception and glass atrium area.

The Castleton Way hospital was officially opened by Lord Framlingham, former MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and Alastair McWhirter, chairman of NHS Suffolk, before people took the chance to tour the building.

Others were tempted outside by various stalls and a dancing display and demonstration by Eye Karate Club kept people entertained.

A number of local dignitaries were also present, including Eye mayor Merlin Carr and previous mayor Felix Williams, as well as members of Hartismere Hospital League of Friends, which has raised funds for the hospital and, with a £15,000 contribution from the Stow Lodge League of Friends, have donated funds for a raised sensory garden and flower beds, a new couch for the birthing unit and two wheelchairs.

Julie Morgan, NHS Suffolk project manager, who oversaw the 18-month refurbishment, said: “It’s been an emotional day. You’ve got to remember it’s been such a long project. “It’s lovely to see so many people here - we always knew the hospital was at the heart of its community.”

The project was announced in August 2010 following campaigns by the local community and friends group to re-open the hospital after its closure in 2006.

Work finally began in March 2011, but the hospital continued to provide community and specialist clinical services to residents of Norfolk and Suffolk while this was taking place.

The refurbished hospital will continue to house a mixture of community and specialist services, including podiatry, health visiting, continence, mental health, diagnostics, rehabilitation, retinal screening and more.

NHS Suffolk director of corporate services, Martin Royal, said the refurbishment was just phase one of works at the hospital, with a 60-bed nursing home and residential support unit also in the pipeline.

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