Final decision on Aylsham hospital closure

MARK NICHOLLS Health chiefs have today sounded the death knell for St Michael's Hospital at Aylsham after approving plans to close it down under a radical shake-up of community care in Norfolk.

MARK NICHOLLS

Health chiefs have today sounded the death knell for St Michael's Hospital at Aylsham after approving plans to close it down under a radical shake-up of community care in Norfolk.

Norfolk's Primary Care Trust made the decision at a special board meeting to consider the future of intermediate care services and take care closer to patient's homes.

The plan affected nine hospitals and 200 beds across the county - with St Michaels' the only hospital to shut. Bed numbers were cut from 201 to 178 but services will remain at the other hospitals.

Dozens of campaigners from Aylsham crowded into the meeting at UEA Sportspark, Norwich, to mount a last-ditch attempt to persuade board members to re-think their decision.

But their efforts were in vain and as the decision was taken cries of “shame” and angry shouts came from the audience.

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Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for Broadland April Pond had earlier told the meeting: “It is absolutely outrageous that you are proposing this closure, you should be adding to services, not closing them.”

Aylsham Town council chair Liz Jones also pressed the board on why Aylsham was “singled out.”

PCT chair Sheila Childerhouse said that no-one had been singled out but the decision was reached with a “robust set of criteria.”

Director of provider services Mark Taylor, who led the project, said: “This is about getting a balance with bed based care and home based care.”

The new intermediate care strategy includes plans for a specialist stroke unit for central Norfolk, though there is now some doubt over whether that will be sited at Dereham Hospital or elsewhere.

The future of stroke care, due to be discussed at a separate PCT meeting today, is critical to the changes.

Initially, the PCT planned to cut beds from 201 to 158, but now, that will be pegged at 178 and spread over five community hospitals. The figure of 178 includes 104 rehabilitation and palliative care beds, about 40 stroke rehabilitation beds and also 34 supported care beds that will be sited far and wide across the county, including in some units that campaigners feared would close.

Those 104 beds will be split over five sites at: Norwich Community (24), Dereham (24), Kelling (24), Swaffham (18) and North Walsham (14).

The "supported beds", to further help people recover, will be spread across the county, some at the threatened units and others elsewhere. They will be at Fakenham (2) and possibly at Cranmer House; Aylsham (5), though not at St Michael's; Thetford (3); south east Norfolk (5); Wymondham, potentially at Ogden Court (6); Norwich (2); Downham Market (9) and north-west Norfolk.

Some of the locations have yet to be finalised.

The PCT, still struggling to pay of a £46m deficit, will not save any money by the changes and because it now needs more beds at more centres than proposed in the consultation document, there are likely to be only a handful of redundancies. By next April, an additional 30 community care staff will be recruited.

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