NHS bed cull revealed

Campaigners were last night clinging to a glimmer of hope that their cottage hospitals could be saved as the full details of a wide-ranging shake-up of community health care in Norfolk emerged for the first time.

Campaigners were last night clinging to a glimmer of hope that their cottage hospitals could be saved as the full details of a wide-ranging shake-up of community health care in Norfolk emerged for the first time.

The plan by Norfolk Primary Care Trust to take more care closer to patients' homes produced an inevitable crop of winners and losers with some community units stripped of their beds while others will gain a whole new lease of life.

The big winner was Dereham Hospital, which under the plans that will go forward for formal public consultation, is to be home to a 40-bed specialist stroke unit and also have 26 rehabilitation beds.

However, smaller units such as Cranmer House at Fakenham, St Michael's Hospital in Aylsham and Benjamin Court in Cromer will not only lose their beds but their existing health services could be moved to other units.

The only hope for these units is that 40 supported care beds, that have yet to be located, may be returned to these units.

Other units, such as Kelling Hospital and North Walsham Hospital will be pitched against each other during the consultation process over which unit will host 26 rehab beds.

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But the EDP Save Our Beds campaign - which called for as many beds as possible to be retained - appears to have focused the minds of health chiefs.

The intermediate care document, due to be placed before the trust board on Tuesday , reveals that of 201 community beds affected, only 43 will be lost, despite initial fears that figure could have been as high as 120.

The PCT's director of provider services Mark Taylor, who is leading the intermediate care changes, said: “We are not proposing any closures at the moment and we do understand the emotional attachment people have to their local hospital. There is a 90-day consultation period with nine drop-in meetings planned and we hope that people will use the chance to comment on our plans.”

The PCT estimates it will need an additional 40 whole time clinicians and support workers to meet the demand in offering the right level of care to people in their own homes but there could also be 50 redundancies in other areas as a result of the change.

The trust will consider the outcome from the formal consultation in June with a view to introducing changes in the autumn.

Mr Taylor stressed that with the locations of the 40 supported beds not yet finalised, some units that have had proposals to lose rehabilitation beds may be used for these other community beds. Equally, they may also be some located in units other than the nine community hospitals, particularly in the west and south of Norfolk where the coverage is limited.

Last night Richard Felgate, chairman of the Friends of Dereham Hospital, welcomed the prospect of a 40-bed specialist stroke rehabilitation unit and 26-general rehabilitation beds on the hospital site.

He said: “This is exactly the type of facility that we have been saying should be here but we would like to see them retain the present clinic and outpatient facilities.

“I find it very encouraging and am pleasantly surprised that they have not gone down the route of the health village to bring in money. We used to have a very good orthopaedic rehabilitation unit here three years ago and this seems a logical option.”

South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser said: “I realise that Norfolk PCT faces some extremely difficult decisions in order to repay the massive debt that it has inherited. The Government should have stepped in with financial assistance, so that the people of Norfolk get the health care that they need.

“Whilst it is good news that that the PCT proposes to retain the vital community and outpatient services at Swaffham Hospital, their plan to close all rehabilitation and palliative care beds is a devastating blow, both for staff at the hospital and the local community.

“There is still a glimmer of hope for Swaffham Hospital in that a decision on the site of 40 'supported beds' is still to be reached. It is hugely important that Swaffham Community Hospital is used for some of these, and this must now be the focus of our campaign.”

Mr Fraser will deliver petitions containing 6,500 signatures to Downing Street today in support of the campaign to save Swaffham Hospital with town and district councillor Ian Sherwood.

Wymondham Mayor Joe Mooney will deliver a petition containing more than 3,000 signatures to the PCT board on Tuesday but last night he was left bitterly disappointed at the proposal to axe all 14 hospital beds currently provided at the town's Ogden Court.

He said: “I am very disappointed with the news. There will be a great deal of anger in the town. People don't want Wymondham to lose the beds at Ogden Court and I do hope they will take our petition into account, and we will carry on fighting with our campaign.”