Town urged to fight shock hospital plan

RICHARD BATSON A battle cry has gone up for Aylsham people to fight plans to axe their historic and once proud hospital. Town council chairman Liz Jones is urging people not to be downhearted by the shock news theirs is the only unit to be axed in a county-wide beds shake-up.

RICHARD BATSON

A battle cry has gone up for Aylsham people to fight plans to axe their historic and once proud hospital.

Town council chairman Liz Jones is urging people not to be downhearted by the shock news theirs is the only unit to be axed in a county-wide beds shake-up.

She is urging them to turn out in force to lobby next Tuesday's Norfolk Primary Care Trust board meeting which will be asked to approve the closure in a review of community care.

“If the board ratifies this, 10,000 people in the Aylsham area will have no hospital care. People need to come, and make a fuss and some noise,” she added.

PCT chairman Sheila Childerhouse said that while she understood the reaction from Aylsham, officials had looked at the needs of local people in their planning, and felt they could be met by a mixture of five “supported beds” and community services. Many of the Aylsham beds were previously used by people from the Norwich area.

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The local beds could be in a 60-plus bed nursing home planned for part of the old St Michael's site.

However Miss Jones said that five beds were not enough for 10,000 people in the Aylsham area. She also felt they had not really had a good answer to the question of why just Aylsham was singled out for closure, through she suspected it was because two thirds of the site had already been sold for development, and the rest could easily follow.

They were also concerned at the cost of the consultation exercise which resulted in the cutting of just 23 of the 201 community beds around Norfolk - when it was originally thought up to half could go.

She accepted that the health authority had listened to public concerns, and felt they were surprised by the strength of public feeling, but that it had not helped Aylsham despite a vocal campaign.

“There have been some winners, but we have lost big time,” added Miss Jones.

Union representative, town councillor and hospital friends chairman Andrew Wilton said people were angry and frustrated as the news sank in.

They felt the PCT had still not given a detailed justification for why St Michael's should close, and where replacement services would be located.

“We just want the truth. At the moment everybody is guessing,” he added.

Staff morale had been hit, having been boosted only last year when a £200,000 new ward was created in an old dining room. The hospital now has just over 20 beds, and runs clinics including occupational, speech and physiotherapy and for Parkinson's sufferers.

St Michael's cottage hospital was opened as an 11-bed unit in 1956 on a site originally built as a workhorse for destitute “men, aged women and idiots” in 1849.

By the 1960s it was drawing patients from far and wide as a pioneering centre for joint replacements.

In 1982 a new operating theatre was opened by the Duchess of Kent after a £420,000 Operation Arthritis Appeal.

But in 1996, again despite a local campaign, the rheumatology and orthopaedic departments were shut leaving it as a 24-bedded community hospital with clinics.

t The PCT meeting is at the UEA Sportspark from 10am until noon. People wanting to reserve a seat on an Aylsham protest bus, which leaves at 8am, should contact the town hall on 01263 733354 or e-mail townclerk@aylsham-t.go.uk