Commissioners recommend closing Southwold and Patrick Stead hospitals permanently as part of system shake-up

The League of Friends at Patrick Stead Hospital in Halesworth holding their annual fete.Picture: Jam

The League of Friends at Patrick Stead Hospital in Halesworth holding their annual fete.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

The fates of two much-loved hospitals have been all but sealed after health bosses announced their recommendation to axe both services permanently.

Great Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (HealthEast) wants to close Southwold and Halesworth's Patrick Stead hospitals and replace them with out-of-hospital services and beds in care homes.

The recommendation was met with disappointment by campaigners, who fear for the impact on patients.

HealthEast's governing body will make the final decision on Thursday.

It comes after a public consultation in which around 56pc of the 1,181 who responded were against the closures.

In a separate question 53pc said they were in favour of introducing out-of-hospital teams in the community.

Closing 15 beds at Northgate Hospital, Great Yarmouth, and five beds at All Hallows Hospital, Ditchingham are also included in the recommendation.

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The 21 beds at Beccles Hospital will also cater for longer-term patients with more complex needs than previously.

It is hoped the closures will save HealthEast £4.3m per year and take pressure off James Paget University Hospital (JPH) at Gorleston.

But chief executive Andy Evans insisted the move was 'not about cuts' and added it formed part of HealthEast's strategy for the next 10 to 15 years.

'This is about changing the way we provide care for our people,' he said.

'Patients will get better care provided by out-of-hospital teams in their own homes.'

He stressed that none of the closures will be implemented until HealthEast has developed the new services.

But Southwold Hospital has been effectively closed since August after its operator, East Coast Community Healthcare, was unable to provide safe staffing levels.

Brian Jolly, chairman of the League of Friends of Southwold and District Hospital, said the process had left 'a bitter taste'.

'What we're a bit disappointed about is the fact that there's been no interim measures put into place after the hospital closed,' he said.

'We always knew they would go ahead with the proposals.

'We would like to work with HealthEast to find a solution to the situation.'

He said the group would have been supportive of the plan had the new planned care home at Sole Bay Health Centre, Reydon, already been in place.

Patrick Stead Hospital could close by 2018, according to Mr Evans.

He said he 'hoped' there would be no staffing issues to threaten an early closure of the hospital before the new services are in place.

He said HealthEast would work intensively over the next three to six months to develop the new services across its whole area.

Anne Fleming, chairman of Halesworth Town Council, said: 'The uncertainty of the future of the hospitals means that staff are looking for jobs elsewhere.

'I think it will close down before 2018 because they will say they can't staff it.'

David Thomas, a town councillor, said he welcomed Mr Evans' statement about new services being in place before closing beds.

He said: 'It reassures the town council that Andy Evans is sticking to his word that he gave at the public meeting.'

Asked how much of a difference to the outcome the consultation had made, Mr Evans said HealthEast had taken the views of the public into consideration by recognising the need to develop different models of care for each individual area.

HealthEast had previously planned to roll out a model across the whole area based on its pilot programme in Lowestoft, where emergency admissions to the JPH have decreased in the last 18 months.

It is by preventing expensive hospital admissions and instead paying for patients' care in their own homes or communities that HealthEast hopes to save money.

At Thursday's meeting the governing body will also discuss HealthEast's recommendation to build a new site at Shrublands, Gorleston, from which to deliver GP services to residents of the Gorleston and Bradwell areas.

See today's paper edition of the EDP for more reaction and analysis.

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