Health service U-turn

A DRAMATIC U-turn could be made on plans to close community hospitals beds in west Suffolk, as councillors prepare to re-examine their initial decision.

A DRAMATIC U-turn could be made on plans to close community hospitals beds in west Suffolk, as councillors prepare to re-examine their initial decision.

In an unprecedented move the county's health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC) could do a dramatic U-turn on their initial decision not to refer the proposals to health secretary Patricia Hewitt.

The change of heart comes after a group of patients threatened a judicial review against the committee and the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT), arguing that their decision-making processes were flawed.

David Lockwood, chairman of the HOSC, said: “The committee will now look again, on September 12, at the decision it took not to refer the proposals to the secretary of state.”

The committee's decision on the west Suffolk proposals came in for criticism when they decided to refer proposals in east Suffolk to Patricia Hewitt, but did not ask her to look at the proposed reduction in beds at the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury and at Newmarket Hospital.

Peter Clifford, chairman of the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, said: “Their decision on the services in Suffolk West was completely at odds with the decision on Suffolk East.”

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Currently, the Suffolk West PCT is having to freeze all of its plans for change pending the outcome of the review, leaving staff and patients anxious about their future.

Mike Stonard, chief executive of the Suffolk West PCT, said the judicial review against them could cost the cash-strapped trust hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees.

He said: “We are confident we carried out our consultation in a proper and robust fashion taking on board the wide range of views.

“A judicial review will delay developments by six to twelve months with no guarantees of a different decision at the end.

“We fear the delays that would be caused by a judicial review are likely to create the very gap in services that campaigners and local people wanted to avoid.”

He said the trust would be interested to hear more about the health scrutiny committee's grounds for reviewing their decision.

He said: “If it is being re-opened, we would look forward to receiving details of the grounds for doing so.

“The committee previously spent eight months looking in detail at the PCT's proposals, including meetings with staff and visits to affected services.”