Anger mounts over NHS cuts threat

LORNA MARSH Anger was mounting last night over a proposed cull of community hospital beds as MPs and campaigners pledged to continue their fight against what has been branded a “dangerous” move.

LORNA MARSH

Anger was mounting last night over a proposed cull of community hospital beds as MPs and campaigners pledged to continue their fight against what has been branded a "dangerous" move.

Although fewer community beds will be cut than at first feared in the Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) radical shake-up of services, campaigners are adamant that none should be lost.

Keith Simpson, Conservative MP for mid-Norfolk, said: "It is like someone telling you it's OK that you are only going to lose one arm rather than both."

Calls have been made for a cross-party contingent of MPs to meet health secretary Patricia Hewitt to plead the case for Norfolk's cash-strapped PCT.

Campaigners accused the PCT of cutting crippling debts at the cost of care as speculation mounted that just three out of the present nine community hospitals would remain, with more beds seconded to the private sector and an increase in home-based care.

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According to the report, a specialist unit for the treatment of stroke victims would also be set up in an as- yet-unnamed location.

Mr Simpson said: "Worrying questions remain. We are in danger of having absolutely nothing between going into the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and being at home, which could be dangerous for some people. There are higher instances of having to return to general hospital for those who have gone straight home instead of recuperating at a community unit."

Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, said he was planning to call a meeting with Ms Hewitt when more details emerged from the review towards the end of the month.

"The latest report is completely fragmented, it gives no answers," he said.

Joe Turner, North Walsham councillor and a campaigner against the closure of the town's Memorial Hospital, said a meeting of the campaign committee has now been scheduled for Tuesday.

"The truth of the matter is that with the growing population, the need is for more beds, not fewer.

"We are aware that at the present time the University Hospital at Norwich is bursting at the seams," he said.

"This should not be happening in the 21st century."

Henry Bellingham, Tory MP for north-west Norfolk, yesterday took the matter of PCT finances to prime minister's question time, asking if Tony Blair was aware of the PCT's £50m deficit and the resulting cancellation of operations.

"It is a disgrace that the government has allowed this situation to happen. Norfolk is not unique, this is a crisis within the NHS, we will be putting what pressure on we can to fight the review."

Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, said: "This is more driven by a need to fulfill a edict from above rather than address the situation on the ground.

"We will do everything we can to put pressure on the government not to make cuts where healthcare is at risk."