Community hospitals shake-up backed

MARK NICHOLLS Plans for a radical shake-up of community hospital services across Norfolk were today given the go-ahead by a health watchdog body in the county.

MARK NICHOLLS

Plans for a radical shake-up of community hospital services across Norfolk were today given the go-ahead by a health watchdog body in the county.

However, a question mark still hangs over the fate of St Michael's Hospital at Aylsham with Norfolk Primary Care Trust given four months to come up with clear answers on what they propose for services in that area.

Norfolk's health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC) debated at length today whether to back to PCT's plans to change intermediate care services in the county.

The plan sees a reduction in community beds from 201 to 178, including the building a stroke rehabilitation unit for central Norfolk but it saw the closure of St Michael's.

However, the committee remained dissatisfied with the lack of detail over what would happen when the hospital closed, particularly over where five beds for the Aylsham area would be located, transport issues and a gap in service provision between the hospital closing and new services being put in place.

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Initially, there were proposals by HOSC members to put the whole community hospital plan on ice for four months while the Aylsham issue was resolved. But after discussion, it was agreed to hive off the Aylsham factor and approve the rest of the plan.

PCT bosses said after the meeting that taking Aylsham out of the equation at this stage would not delay the wider scheme.

The PCT's deputy director of provider services Tony Hadley said: “Until such time as the stroke unit is open, Aylsham hospital will not close.”

He suggested that with a tendering process for the unit now under way, it could be late 2008 or even early 2009 before the unit was in place. However, other changes under the intermediate care plan could start to come into effect next spring.

The PCT had referred to the need to get all the pieces of the “jigsaw” in place but committee chair Janice Eels said: “At this stage we feel the PCT has left quite a few pieces of the jigsaw out.”

In giving the go-ahead to the PCT, the HOSC said that it would continue to monitor the intermediate care plans, clarify issues of service provision and ensure that the PCT worked with Aylsham Care Trust to commission at least five alternative beds in the area for the foreseeable future.

Campaigners in Aylsham were relived that there was a delay over the St Michael's decision.

Town council chair Eileen Springall said: “We feel heartened by the fact that people are listening to us, but we still have a lot of hard work to do over the next four months.”

Concerns were also raised over the way Lascelles ward at Kelling Hospital was closed on October 1 but the committee decided not to take further action over this issue.

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