Supporters to bid for community hospital

A pressure group set up to save a much-loved community hospital said yesterday they were just days away from launching a plan to take it over themselves.

Members of a pressure group set up to save a much-loved community hospital said yesterday they were just days away from launching a plan to take it over themselves.

Following a successful campaign by people in Wells to take over their healthcare facilities, people in Eye now want to do the same for Hartismere Hospital.

Last week Suffolk Primary Care Trust announced that the Victorian community hospital which currently has just 10 in-patient beds will be closed by April and the building sold off.

Yesterday Eric Havers, chair-man of the Friends of Hartismere Hospital, told the EDP that local people were now in a position to bid for the five-acre site - valued at about £4m - and, if successful, would directly shape a programme of innovative healthcare.

"We started off as an action group looking to fight proposals to shut the hospital but, after thinking about it some more and studying Department of Health policy, we became a development group looking to take it on ourselves," he said.

"We have got tremendous support from Mid Suffolk District Council, Suffolk County Council and local doctors, and we've been working with a number of groups to put together a 'vision' and in the next few days a business plan for the site."

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That vision involves building a health village on the hospital site, supplying a series of services through both the National Health Service and private companies, reflecting the needs of the local community.

Plans include building a modern community hospital with beds, clinics and diagnostic facilities, a doctors' surgery, birthing pool, and sheltered housing for the elderly and infirm.

Mr Havers said a new company, Hartismere Health and Care, had been set up and formed a partnership with developer Prime, which has invested £150m in building new doctors' surgeries and community hospitals since 1995.

But he said it was important that the community understood this would not be an example of a private business coming in, making money and leaving if profits went down.

He said: "Hartismere Health and Care will be a community interest company which will have responsibility for the administration and managing of the site. It will oversee the three to four care providers offering services.

"If there's any profit made it will remain in the company and go back on the site, and there will always be three people from the local community on the board of directors to protect local interest.

"Prime will provide the bricks and mortar, building the new centres and then renting them out to the different providers."

Mr Havers said the partnership has money in place to finance a bid, but hoped to get the site cheaper than the £4m valuation because the hospital site has to be used for healthcare, not housing, under planning rules.

He said the group was waiting to hear from Suffolk PCT when the site would go on to the market. Last night a spokesman for the PCT said plans were to market it early in the next financial year - April, May or June.