Protestors slam 'divisive' hospital plan

Health bosses were fiercely criticised for forcing north Norfolk into a “divisive” choice between two of its community hospitals, a move described by one person as like choosing between two children.

Health bosses were fiercely criticised for forcing north Norfolk into a “divisive” choice between two of its community hospitals, a move described by one person as like choosing between two children.

The latest of a series of consultation meetings around Norfolk to discuss a major health shake-up was held at North Walsham community centre between 10am and 2pm, with the main topic of conversation the town's cottage hospital.

A number of issues were covered, but the one subject which recurred again and again was anger that North Walsham had been pitted against its near neighbour Kelling Hosiptal in a bid for survival.

Part of the preferred option touted by Norfolk Primary Care Trust is to close beds at one of the two sites and keep the other as a 26-bed hospital.

Neither would necessarily close completely because other services might be offered, but the key issue of losing beds at one of the two has incensed local campaigners.

Yesterday's meeting remained largely calm and polite, although there was a small amount of heckling.

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Brian Elliott, chairman of the hospital's league of friends, began the criticism of the PCT by saying the town felt “very let down” by the choice of a daytime meeting, to which many people were unable to come because they were working.

“I have only heard lame excuses from the PCT about why the time could not be changed,” he said.

District councillor Pat Ford said people in North Walsham “did not have a lot of faith” in consultation exercises because of previous experience, such as the closure of the mental health unit Rebecca House.

And referring to the direct choice between North Walsham and Kelling, she added: “Asking people to choose between hospitals is like asking us to choose between two children.”

GP Dr Paul Everden, who has worked in North Walsham for 19 years and practises at the town's Birchwood surgery, said giving people a straight choice between their hospital and the one at Kelling was “divisive” and that the two had a history of supporting each other.

He said the cottage hospital in North Walsham was “a vital and integral part” of appropriate care at point of need.

North Walsham's mayor Keith Dixon criticised the timing of the meeting before saying: “I don't think you are serious about consultation with the people of this town.”

And district councillor Virginia Gay said the plans were “flawed and designed to set the people of north Norfolk against one another”.

Town councillor Roy Haynes described the choice between the two hospitals as “unsavoury”. And county councillor Paul Morse said it was “appalling”.

The meeting heard a presentation from the PCT's deputy director of provider service Tony Hadley and chairman Sheila Childerhouse answered a series of question. Mrs Childerhouse insisted the consultation was genuine, no decisions had yet been made and feedback from the public was important and welcomed.