New hope for town hospital

CHRIS BISHOP Swaffham Community Hospital could be taken over and run by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, it emerged last night. Fears have been growing that more than half the beds at nine community hospitals could be closed as part of cost savings by the Norfolk Primary Care Trust which is £50m in the red - a figure it has inherited in the combined debts of the five smaller primary care trusts which merged to form the new PCT.

CHRIS BISHOP

Swaffham Community Hospital could be taken over and run by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, it emerged last night.

Fears have been growing that more than half the beds at nine community hospitals could be closed as part of cost savings by the Norfolk Primary Care Trust which is £50m in the red - a figure it has inherited in the combined debts of the five smaller primary care trusts which merged to form the new PCT.

The figure is about 5pc of the £875m the new PCT spends providing GP, hospital, mental-health and community services in Norfolk, excluding the Yarmouth area. The trust has to repay the money by 2008 and has been reviewing all its services.

Communities across the county have been rallying to the EDP's Save Our Beds call and voicing opposition to the 120-bed cuts at public meetings. But new hope emerged last night for Swaffham's 18-bed community hospital when a spokesman for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn said it was interested in taking over responsibility for the unit.

He said: "The QE would like to take over Swaffham Community Hospital because it's a valuable resource . . . Everyone recognises the PCT has an enormous job to do but it's vital to keep Swaffham Community Hospital open. We wouldn't do anything without close consultation with the local GPs as they're the biggest stakeholders."

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South Pickenham Parish Council has written to Sheila Childerhouse, who chairs the PCT, to raise its concerns that the hospital is under review.

"Being a small rural village, we really appreciate the benefits of having a local community hospital with its beds and outpatient services," the council writes.

Mrs Childerhouse told the EDP: "It's very early in the process of the review and no decisions have been made yet.

"A formal consultation paper will be published in the new year and it won't be until after that that any decisions are made."