Dilemma for hospital campaigners

DISAPPOINTED campaigners, reeling from the government's decision to close the much-loved Bartlet Hospital, were today facing a difficult dilemma as they debated whether to carry on fighting.

DISAPPOINTED campaigners, reeling from the government's decision to close the much-loved Bartlet Hospital, were today facing a difficult dilemma as they debated whether to carry on fighting.

Health minister Patricia Hewitt has ruled the Felixstowe convalescent and rehabilitation unit must shut - despite 15,000 people signing an Evening Star petition asking for it to be kept open, and hundreds more writing letters of protest.

Campaigners today said they could seek a judicial review of the decision, which would delay closure by up to a year but cost thousands of pounds.

But the big worry is that such a move could jeopardise a planned £1.2 million scheme to turn Felixstowe General into a modern community hospital once the Bartlet closes.

Losing the General is not an option they even want to consider.

“It is a very difficult situation because we want to make sure the action group represents the people of Felixstowe and their views properly,” said Roy Gray, chairman of the Save Our Hospitals Action Group (SOHAG).

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“We have a number of options we will be looking at over the next few days.

“But we have always said consistently that Felixstowe General has got to stay because it is the hospital for Felixstowe. It has vital facilities, such as the minor injuries unit, and needs to have more clinics and other improvements.

“If we are to have 2,800 new homes in this town we need more facilities for a growing population because Ipswich Hospital will not be able to cope with our growth and Ipswich's growth.

“My grave fear - and this is not scaremongering - is that by October we shall have a new Primary Care Trust saddled with the collective debts of Suffolk PCTs and they could turn round and say we need to save money and will not proceed with the General refurbishment.”

The group was bitterly disappointed at Ms Hewitt's decision. Two years ago it felt it had the best option for the future of health services in the town when the Fresher Future for Felixstowe project proposed turning the General into an out-patients hospital and Bartlet into an in-patients unit.

Mr Gray said campaigners still did not believe the new system of travelling teams of carers looking after people discharged early from hospital in their homes would work.

“There will always be people who cannot go home from hospital and need a few days or a week or two to convalesce, and others who go home to an equally elderly husband or wife who cannot look after them. What will happen to them? They will be left to sit and wait all day for a carer to pop in,” he said.

SOHAG committee member Peter Mellor said campaigners had fought hard but the outcome was not unexpected.

“Our health service is not being driven by health care needs, but is financially driven,” he said.

“It is evolving into a rotten American-style health service, where private health providers are eager to get their hands on NHS - taxpayers' - money, which the population will regret very much.

“It is interesting that the only area which Ms Hewitt was prepared to allow stay was Hartismere, where private sector management is already being looked at.”

Malcolm Minns , south east Felixstowe district councillor and chairman of the Suffolk Coastal public patient partnership forum, said: “Unfortunately I don't think we ever expected anything else other than a determination to continue with the planned closures.

“It now means care will be delivered in the community which is something we are very, very gravely concerned about because the necessary resources don't seem to be in place.”

What do you think of the government decision to close the Bartlet? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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