Plea to health secretary over Aylsham hospital

Campaigners at Aylsham are calling on health secretary Alan Johnson to overturn a decision to axe their historic hospital.

Campaigners at Aylsham are calling on health secretary Alan Johnson to overturn a decision to axe their historic hospital.

More than 1,000 people have signed letters asking him to save the 25-bed St Michael's unit which Norfolk's primary care trust recently voted to close by June 2009.

And in a two-pronged attack the town is also set to lobby a county watchdog committee next month which could refuse to ratify the decision.

The letter campaign has been organised by Broadland Liberal Democrats who hope to hand them over to Mr Johnson at Westminster next month.

Lib Dem parliamentary spokeswoman April Pond said closure completely contradicted the government's white paper on health, which clearly stated that patients should be treated closer to home and that community facilities should be kept open where they were wanted and not be closed purely because of lack of funds. It also flew in the face of local democracy and opinion.

It adds: “Norfolk residents don't want to see this hospital closed” and calls on Mr Johnson to “heed their wishes and overturn the decision.”

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Signatories had also added their own experiences of the care they had received at St Michael's, their time working there, its history as a war memorial cottage hospital and their fears about the fate of facilities bought through local fund-raising and donations.

“People really feel cheated,” said Mrs Pond. “I have never seen such an enormous outcry about anything.”

Liz Jones, chairman of Aylsham Town Council, said she was not surprised at the response to the letter campaign which had been supported by everyone she came across.

“It's an issue that cuts across party politics. Everyone is so incensed by the whole thing,” she added.

A meeting of the hospital campaign group on Monday would explore ways of lobbying the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee which is expected to debate the PCT board's plans for community bed numbers and hospital closures when it meets on September 27.

If it is unhappy with the trust's decision, it has the power to refer the matter to health secretary Mr Johnson.

Miss Jones hopes that members of the working party, including local GPs, will be allowed to address the committee and plead St Michael's case.

She said: “It is vital that we give it this one last push.”

The Friends of North Walsham's War Memorial Cottage Hospital are urgently appealing for more donations and support following this year's successful campaign to keep the service open.

The group's annual meeting heard continuing vigilance was needed to guard against any possible U-turn by the PCT.

Chairman Brian Elliott and treasurer Brian Blackburn stressed the importance of keeping the public aware of the hospital's situation and the Friends' desperate need for continuing donations so that the group could get back to providing comforts and other items for patients and staff, as it had done in the past.

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