New year NHS battlelines are drawn

MARK NICHOLLS New Year battle lines are being drawn up as campaigners across Norfolk step up the fight to save community beds and the future of their cottage hospitals.

MARK NICHOLLS

New Year battle lines are being drawn up as campaigners across Norfolk step up the fight to save community beds and the future of their cottage hospitals.

Nine community hospitals and more than 100 beds are under threat as the cash-strapped Norfolk Primary Care Trust makes radical changes to intermediate care.

The plans move onto a critical new level when they go out to formal public consultation later this month with a decision likely as soon as the end of May.

But campaigners have vowed to fight to save the units within their communities.

And they are being backed by the Eastern Daily Press Save Our Beds campaign which calls for as many beds as possible maintained and ensure the PCT listens to all views during a public consultation period planned for the next 90 days.

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Norfolk PCT, which is trying to cut debts of £50m, wants to see more patients treated in their own homes under the plan, which has already sparked strong opposition across large parts of Norfolk.

The PCT say the changes are not driven by the need to save money but a more modern and cost-effective way of treating people. However, campaigners fear their community hospitals will close as a consequence of the trust's need to balance its books by March 2008.

Hospitals under threat of closure, or having bed numbers slashed, are Benjamin Court, Cromer; North Walsham Hospital; St Michael's Hospital, Aylsham; Cranmer House, Fakenham; Swaffham Hospital; Dereham Hospital; Norwich Community Hospital (formerly West Norwich Hospital); Ogden Court, Wymondham, and Kelling Hospital, Holt.

The nine units have 221 beds, of which half could be lost.

Thousands of signatures have been collected against any closures and are due to be presented to the PCT this month .

Wymondham mayor Joe Mooney is involved with the campaign to save the beds at Ogden Court.

He said: “We are going to continue with our petition, we have now got nearly 2,500 signatures, which is a really good response from the town telling the PCT that we have got 14 beds at Ogden Court and we want to keep them all.

“These beds are convenient for the community and for people to visit their relatives. If they moved them to Dereham or Cromer, it would be difficult for people to visit as transport links are not that good and people do not always have the means to get around themselves.”

Charles Simeons from the Kelling Hospital support group said campaigners are waiting to see the detailed plans from the PCT before taking their next course of action.

But he added: “If they plan to take away the beds from Kelling, the PCT can expect a rough ride.

“We hope very much that the solid views of both doctors and patients at the fact finding meetings will convince the PCT that there is a medical need for those beds.”

A Hands off our Hospitals petition organised by the Liberal Democrats in Norfolk is now nearing the 8,000-signature mark and calls on health secretary Patricia Hewitt to ensure that local hospitals are not closed because of the financial crisis in the local health service.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who is also the Liberal Democrat health spokesman said: “We want to see as many hospitals kept as possible, we do not object to a debate about intermediate health services but we fear, whatever we are told, that this decision inevitably is bound up with the whole issue of the financial deficit. In the long term we will rue the day we lose community facilities.”

Mr Lamb has visited a number of community hospitals in his constituency and will visit more in the New Year.

“Many of the people in these facilities are elderly but receive a high level of car and these are facilities that are worth fighting for.

Figures he obtained from the Department of Health showed that the eastern region has 940 intermediate care beds for a population of 5.5m and sits directly in line with the national average for community beds of 0.17 per 1,000 population, compared 0.24 in the East Midlands and the South-east.

The PCT has already said that not all community hospitals will survive. Throughout November, it held a series of six meetings from which views will be combined with those of clinicians and other health professional to form a consultation document.

A Norfolk PCT spokeswoman said: “What we are doing now is drawing together all the findings from the informal meetings, towards forming a final document which will contain the proposals for intermediate care.”

The document will go for approval to the next PCT board meeting on January 23 and then go out to a formal 90-day consultation on the proposed changes.

“It will be technical document, with a summary and it will be a way for organisations and individuals to feed back their views,” she added.

There may be more meetings, particularly in communities most affected with the document readily available in a number of outlets such as GP surgeries.