Campaigners gear up to save health units

The impact of Norfolk health chiefs' proposals for the future of nine community hospitals and more than 200 beds was sinking in today with campaigners gearing up to defend their local units.

The impact of Norfolk health chiefs' proposals for the future of nine community hospitals and more than 200 beds was sinking in today with campaigners gearing up to defend their local units.

As first reported by the EDP today, the Primary Care Trust's plans to take care closer to patients in their own homes produced winners and losers among nine cottage hospitals with some losing all their beds and others set for a new lease of life.

Dereham Hospital was the big winner with a new 40-bed specialist stroke unit and 26 rehabilitation beds.

Smaller hospitals at Cranmer House, Fakenham, St Michael's, Aylsham, and Benjamin Court at Cromer will lose their beds and possibly their other services.

Swaffham Hospital and Ogden Court at Wymondham, will lose their beds but other services will continue.

Kelling Hospital and North Walsham Hospital will be pitched against each other, with all beds possibly being lost but all other services continuing.

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Norwich Community Hospital will have 26 general re-hab beds and other services will continue.

The package of proposals, which will be put to the PCT board on Tuesday, mean a total of 43 beds overall being lost.

Last night campaigners and civic leaders hit out at the proposals and pledged to keep the campaign against it going.

t Mary Northway, chairman of the local hospital friends group, said the PCT would rue the day it closed the relatively new Benjamin Court complex at Cromer.

“People will live to regret any closure. We will fight it because if there is a major flu outbreak there will be a need for community beds, and they will rue the day they shut them.

“We need to have some beds in Cromer. The new hospital will be just day surgery and diagnostics, so they should be at Benjamin Court.

“If we lose that facility it will be difficult to get it back.”

t Kelling campaigner Charles Simeons said keeping Kelling was “logical and sensible” and he felt it had a stronger case for the 26-bed rehabilitation unit than North Walsham, because it was in the centre of a rural area, where providing home care would be difficult for nurses.

“Its isolation it an advantage to the local people, many of whom are elderly, because without there is nothing between Cromer and King's Lynn.

“It can be expanded by 36 beds without any effort at all and there is a lot of space there. The future is positive for Kelling. It has everything except diagnostics.”

t Liz Jones, chairman of Aylsham Town Council, said closing their hospital would be a blow to the town and patients who would have to travel further.

“If St Michael's was closed the nearest hospitals would be Kelling or Cromer, neither of which are accessible by public transport.”

She also said people were worried about job losses at the hospital, particularly after RAF Coltishall closing and the perceived threat of job losses at Bernard Matthews.

“The redundancies from closure would not be good for the local economy, there just seems to be a constant stream of bad news for Aylsham.”

t North Walsham campaigner and councillor Joe Turner said the loss of the town's hospital would have a terrible effect on an aging population there.

But he said North Walsham was perfectly capable of taking the 26-bed rehabilitation unit, which was earmarked for either Walsham or Kelling.

“We are a fast growing town with nearly 13,000 people. We had 26 beds here when the population was only 7,000 years ago. There is room, but we fear the PCT is looking at the land value of the site and wants to flatten the old hospital.

“We are definitely gong to fight for our cause, but don't see it as a contest against Kelling.”

t Swaffham town and district councillor Ian Sherwood, who has led the campaign to save services at the hospital, said: “I think this is an absolute kick in the teeth for community hospitals across Norfolk, especially Swaffham.

“The truth is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital needs intermediate care for people who can't return to home when they are discharged from the QE.

“I can see a very big upswell of support for the hospital. This will be the start of what will be a very serious campaign to see these proposals will not be allowed to happen. To lose these services in Swaffham is not acceptable."

t Ursula Cheetham, mayor of Dereham, said she was very pleased with the news for Dereham Hospital which will become a stroke unit and centre for 26 rehab beds as long as it meant no land was lost on the hospital site to other purposes than health care.

"I was very keen on the idea of a health village there which had been proposed which would be fantastic for the infrastructure of Dereham," she said. "But as long a there are plenty of facilities there for people to be nursed so their families don't have to travel far to visit and people don't lose their jobs and that it is serving the community then it has to be a good thing. We are building houses everywhere so we badly need something to serve our growing population."

t Celia Lee, of Friends of Cranmer House in Fakenham said the PCT's proposals were "unbelieveable".

"Cranmer House is such a wonderful place and everyone praises its dedicated and hard-working staff. They (the Norfolk PCT) talks about pubic consultation but that is just lip service and I personally don't have any faith it that at all. It is a white wash and they have ignored the views of local people," she said.

Mrs Lee said the proposed closure of the 13 nursing beds at Cranmer House was a sad day for Fakenham.

t Mayor of Wymondham, Joe Mooney, has vowed to continue the battle to save hospital beds at Ogden Court that are set to be axed under the PCT's proposals.

He said: "I am very disappointed with the news and there will be a great deal of anger in the town. People don't want Wymondham to lose the beds at Ogden Court and we will carry on fighting with our campaign.

The proposal is to do away with all 14 intermediate care beds currently provided at Ogden Court. Other services will continue.

t Simon Wright, Lib Dem spokesman for Norwich South, who has led the campaign to save the city's community hospital which could still lose services to other sites, said: “It is absolutely vital we carry on campaigning. This will have an impact on services overall including acute services when the N&N is operating at capacity and cannot afford incidences of bed blocking because no rehab beds are available.

“It is potentially quite a serious situation.”