Why the Bartlet battlers carry on

WITH its wards standing empty, doors firmly closed and the hospital surrounded by steel-mesh fencing, people could be forgiven for thinking the battle to save the Bartlet is long over.

WITH its wards standing empty, doors firmly closed and the hospital surrounded by steel-mesh fencing, people could be forgiven for thinking the battle to save the Bartlet is long over.

But the campaigners will not give up - and even now insist that all is not lost.

They refuse to accept defeat while town councillors and the public at large seem content that the fight was lost and have turned their energies to other issues.

Others though admire their bulldog spirit, their energy and enthusiasm and determination to carry on, pressing their case, speaking out for the increasingly obvious need for convalescent care, especially for the elderly unable to recover on their own at home after operations.

Their dream of turning the building into a recuperative centre, featuring respite care and a base for support groups, is still very much alive.

It's a year since Suffolk Primary Care Trust agreed to sell the former hospital to a property company wanting to turn the building into upmarket flats and it appears the purchase is no nearer completion.

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There has been no planning application for the conversion, and a successful sale is conditional on approval for a viable flats scheme.

With the housing market taking a dip, the credit crunch making people think twice about their spending, campaigners are waiting in the wings, carefully putting their proposal and finance together in case they should be offered a fresh chance.

Barry Farr, chairman of the Bartlet Bequest Action Group, insists there is every reason to fight on.

The group recently made two planning applications - one to turn the hospital back into a convalescent home and the other to create a multi-faith chapel - but have now been told by planners they do not need consent to carry out their plans.

“The current use as a hospital covers what we want to do - all we need is to get our hands on the building,” said Mr Farr.

“At the moment we don't have the building but the delay over its future is helping us because it gives us the time we need to put together a business plan and get the necessary finance in place.”

The Bartlet was given to the community by its founder Dr John Bartlet and campaigners have insisted all along that the health authorities should hand it over for community use.

“I don't want to have to buy it back - I think that's wrong. But I am pragmatic enough to think we will have to buy it and so we are working hard to have the funds to do that,” said Mr Farr.

“The east Suffolk community have been very generous in their support and we need that to continue.

“We are not people who give up a fight. If this was a military campaign and some obstacle came up, the generals would simply look at alternative ways of doing it.

“I see all over the world people far worse off than I am.

“People who have been mistreated by governments they have taken a stand against - being shot, put in prison. No-one is doing that to me, no-one is throwing me in prison.

“We have the freedom to put our points and to keep on fighting against what we believe is a grave injustice to this community.

“We are not flogging a dead horse - if we took that attitude every time, we would never progress.

“We truly believe there is still a chance to use the Bartlet for a project which will make it a centre of excellence and which will benefit the whole community in the way the building was always intended and in a way in which turning it into flats never will.”

The aim is to create a recuperative centre provided by an organisation called the Bartlet Foundation Trust with its facilities managed on a day-to-day basis by Bartlet Care Ltd.

Talks are already under way with potential financial backers, and although the PCT have spurned the offer of a meeting to discuss the ideas, the group is set to try again.

One of the big criticisms of the closure of the Bartlet was the removal of convalescent care. The PCT now discharges people more quickly from hospital and instead of moving them to somewhere like the Bartlet to continue their recovery, sends them home to be looked after by travelling care teams.

Officials say most people would prefer to be at home and today's medicine, and the equipment available to the carers, means this can be achieved more effectively.

Many people are not so certain. Some are unable to return home - those without loved ones or spouses to care for them face miserable days waiting for a carer to turn up for a few minutes.

Being in the Bartlet gave them the assurance of immediate nursing care when there were questions, twinges, problems, as well as company and lovely recuperative surroundings.

Mr Farr said the idea was for the Bartlet to provide holistic recuperative care, and respite beds for families needing short-term care for long-term sick loved ones.

There would be plenty of space for support groups - such as the stroke club and similar organisations - to share, and the possibility of providing care in conjunction with the military authorities for injured soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Should the Bartlet be turned into fancy apartments? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

FACTFILE: The fight to save the Bartlet

The first threat to the Bartlet emerged in 1998 when the health authority wanted to close it to save £350,000 a year and pledged to create convalescent beds in wards at Ipswich Hospital.

An action group and The Evening Star spearheaded a campaign, taking it all the way to the health minister Frank Dobson who agreed the hospital should not close.

After repeated declarations that the Bartlet's future was secure, three years ago it became apparent that it was under threat again - and with the PCT needing to cut its debts, it was serious.

Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals and the Evening Star immediately launched a fresh campaign - holding a series of meetings, a protest march, and gathering 16,000 signatures on a petition.

Despite making protests at the House of Commons and in the High Court, this time the health minister would not support the campaign - ruling that the Bartlet should close.

In early 2007, the PCT agreed the building should be sold to development company PJ Livsey if they get permission to turn it into flats.

FACTFILE: Dr Bartlet

Creation of The Bartlet Hospital was Dr John Bartlet's dying wish in 1917.

Born in Ipswich and educated at Ipswich School and London University, Dr Bartlet, whose father and grandfather had been surgeons, was firmly convinced him people would get better far quicker if they were away from a busy hospital and, particularly women, not plunged straight back into a home environment.

He left £250,000 for purchase of land and construction of the hospital, leaving it to the trustees of his will to decide the details.

The hospital finally opened in 1926 on Felixstowe seafront on the site of Bath Hotel, which had been destroyed by suffragettes, and an old Martello Tower.

Dr Bartlet, who was 86 when he died, was honorary surgeon and governor, served as mayor of Ipswich and a magistrate, and later president, of the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital.