Victory for caring county

EXCLUSIVE: Hard-fought battles by campaigners look set to have saved many of Norfolk's cottage hospitals and community beds from the axe.Most of the nine hospitals under threat will stay open and only a fraction of the community beds will now be lost.

Hard-fought battles by campaigners look set to have saved many of Norfolk's cottage hospitals and community beds from the axe.

Most of the nine hospitals under threat will stay open and only a fraction of the community beds will now be lost.

Norfolk Primary Care Trust says it has listened to the campaigners during a lengthy consultation process.

Initially, it looked as though beds would be lost at five or six centres, but now all except St Michael's Hospital at Aylsham will continue to provide NHS care.

Last night Aylsham campaigners expressed their bitter disappointment at the news, but pledged to fight on.

The EDP can today reveal details of the PCT's intermediate care strategy, which will be presented to a special board meeting next Tuesday for approval.

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But even if it gets the go-ahead, the PCT says there will be little change for a year until staff have been recruited and alternative community care arrangements put in place to look after more patients in their own homes.

The new intermediate care strategy includes plans for a specialist stroke unit for central Norfolk, though there is now some doubt over whether that will be sited at Dereham Hospital or elsewhere.

Initially, the PCT planned to cut beds from 201 to 158, but now, that will be pegged at 178 and spread over five community hospitals. The figure of 178 includes 104 rehabilitation and palliative care beds, about 40 stroke rehabilitation beds and also 34 supported care beds that will be sited far and wide across the county, including in some units that campaigners feared would close.

A total of 19,770 people took part in the consultation between March 6 and June 5, of which 17,120 were petition signatures.

But there were also many personal letters from people referring to the care of the way a family member was looked after through to some organisation producing weighty submissions on aspects of the proposal.

The PCT's director of provider services Mark Taylor, who is leading the restructuring project for intermediate care, said: “We hope that what we have come up with reflects all the strategic aims of the board but also reflects the views of the 17,000-plus comments.

“We hope that we have found a way of synthesising that need and looking to strike a balance between what we were trying to achieve and what people had to say.

“It goes back to what PCT chair Sheila Childerhouse has said all along that this is a genuine consultation. I would like to think what we have come up with demonstrates that it has been a genuine process and that we have found a way to listen to people and reflect their concerns while doing what we think is in the long-term best interests of the service.”

The PCT, still struggling to pay of a £46m deficit, will not save any money by the changes and because it now needs more beds at more centres than proposed in the consultation document, there are likely to be only a handful of redundancies rather than the 50 that were feared.

By next April, an additional 30 community care staff will be recruited.

But Mr Taylor stressed: “There will be no reduction in service until alternative services are in place and there will not be any major changes until the decision has been made about the specialist stroke unit.”

Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson, who has Aylsham in his constituency, said a “very impressive” campaign had been fought locally and he was “bitterly disappointed”.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary, said: “Given that I was very concerned that about the loss of beds, and we are losing fewer than we had feared, I have mixed emotions and the package seems less damaging.

“Fakenham - on the one hand it will stay as a unit but it will be a reduced input from the health service, which will be incredibly disappointing from the point of view of local people.

“In Aylsham there will be a very good deal of distress in the town about the loss of St Michael's, but set against that North Walsham gets very good news and we will see and expansion of that unit to 24 beds and that makes it much more likely to be sustainable in the future and it's a growing town, the biggest town in north Norfolk.

“Until now we've been expecting that it (North Walsham) could be lost - the fact we are retaining it and the fact it will expand is very good news.

“Kelling Hospital is another that will expand in terms of availability of community beds, so it's good news for that part of North Norfolk.

“Benjamin Court (at Cromer) has lost its rehabilitation centre but the fact is it will be used as a specialist long-term care centre now.

“There will be concern about the loss of the Lascelles ward at Kelling, but if its work continues in a more modern setting then that may be the right judgement to make.

“It's a mixed bag - but there is no doubt that the package is much less damaging than the proposals that went to consultation.”

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