New Forest East



By Julian Lewis

Southern Daily Echo – 23 March 2005

I do not envy New Forest Primary Care Trust Chief Executive John Richards in his new post. There is a ghastly black hole in the Trust's finances – a deficit of up to £11m. Having met Mr Richards twice, I find him caring and considerate. He will need these qualities in abundance in the months ahead.

Just as a drowning man grasps at anything that might keep him afloat for a few moments longer, the medical bureaucracy in the New Forest is thrashing around to find anything which can be used to bail it out of its financial mess, however temporary. So it is no surprise that the much-loved Fenwick Hospital in Lyndhurst is once again in danger of being axed.

Of course, this is not being done openly. We are being told that the recent closure of most of the hospital is because of a glitch in staff availability and that it will presently reopen. Personally, I think the PCT is testing the water to see if it can get away with shutting it down by degrees.

The temptation to sell off the land and buildings at a time of financial crisis is understandable but wrong. The non-specialist services provided by cottage hospitals add greatly to the quality of life of the communities they serve. Patients undergo recovery and rehabilitation at the pace they need, instead of being put under pressure in a large general hospital to vacate precious and expensive bed-space at the earliest possible moment.

Naturally, the great teaching hospitals are vital to supply hi-tech specialist treatment, but if they suck into their own premises the simple, non-specialist roles of the community hospitals too, they both dehumanise the process and generate pressures to shift people through the system much faster than is desirable.

When Mr Richards first told me about the "temporary" closure of the Fenwick, I did advise him that if there was a hidden agenda to do away with it permanently, he could expect a major local campaign to save it. In my view, the time has come for that campaign to be unleashed.