Public meetings promised

MARK NICHOLLS Health chiefs are to press ahead with a public consultation process which could see some of Norfolk's community hospitals closed. A series of public meetings is scheduled for the second part of November for people to air their views on the new Norfolk Primary Care Trust's plans to make changes to intermediate care, which could also see the 227 beds in community hospitals cut by more than 100.

MARK NICHOLLS

Health chiefs are to press ahead with a public consultation process which could see some of Norfolk's community hospitals closed.

A series of public meetings is scheduled for the second part of November for people to air their views on the new Norfolk Primary Care Trust's plans to make changes to intermediate care, which could also see the 227 beds in community hospitals cut by more than 100.

Yesterday, at its first board meeting, the trust agreed to move forward with the process to look again at the number of community hospitals in its area.

The authority wants to see

more people move from acute hospitals, such as the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital or the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn, and receive care in their own homes through outreach nursing teams rather than spend more time in community hospital beds.

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But already campaigners are fearful that their community hospitals will be closed.

Hospitals affected are: Benjamin Court, Cromer; North Walsham Hospital; St Michael's Hospital, Aylsham; Cranmer House, Fakenham; Swaffham Hospital; Dereham Hospital; Norwich Community Hospital; Ogden Court, Wymondham; and Kelling Hospital at Holt.

The EDP has launched the Save Our Beds campaign to ensure that as many community beds as possible are saved as a result of any changes that may be made to the intermediate care structure in the county.

More than 80 people turned up for the meeting, many of them supporters of the units that could be affected under the plan.

The PCT's director of provider services Mark Taylor (pictured right) outlined the proposals and warned that some hospitals would close, though no decision would be taken at this stage and the consultation process would take into account views of patients, health staff, campaigners and other interested parties.

"We have too many services spread over too many small sites," he said. "This is about how we get the balance of those services right."

Venues have still to be announced for the public meetings, but from those the board will form a consultation document which will go out to formal public consultation after Christmas, with a final decision on the fate of the nine hospitals and the beds made some time in April.

Mr Taylor said that outreach teams were already operating successfully in some parts of the county and had received an "overwhelmingly positive" response from patients.

However, board member Martin Stephenson said it was too early to be "talking about a wealth of evidence" of patient satisfaction and he wanted to see independent evidence of what patients thought of the care they received in their homes.

People who had turned up were reassured by PCT chairman Sheila Childerhouse that their views would be listened to in the consultation process.

After the meeting, Freda Abell, from the Friends of Dereham Hospital, handed in a 1,600-signature petition to PCT chief executive Hilary Daniels against any move to close the hospital in Dereham.

She said: "I am pleased that we are going to be able to have our say and be involved in the public consultations."

But Charles Simeons, from Kelling Hospital friends group, was concerned about whether there would be sufficient funds available to establish outreach teams fast enough.

"Until we know that the resources are sufficient, we should move forward slowly," he said.

Wymondham mayor Joe Mooney said he supported the EDP's Save Our Beds campaign and was anxious to see the 17 beds at Ogden Court retained. He will raise the matter with his town council.

Earlier in the day, senior board members from Norfolk PCT had presented their plans to the county council's health overview and scrutiny committee, with councillors asking detailed questions about the proposals.

Mr Taylor told that committee that patients could get visits two, three or four times a day and be intensively supported in their own homes.

The committee was also concerned about the impact reduced community beds would have on social services.

It agreed to establish a working party to look at community hospitals and home care, and investigate the social services element, and present findings to the PCT to assist with the consultation process.