By Chris Yandell
Southern Daily Echo – 6 October 2005
Are they starting to listen? That is the question being posed as health chiefs are proposing to axe scores of hospital beds in Hampshire.
Following a consultation exercise, the New Forest Primary Care Trust has responded to the 40 980 people who signed a Daily Echo-backed petition by saying it recognises that the plans had caused a "significant amount of anxiety" in the community.
The trust promised to modify its proposals in response to all the objections – but opponents of the scheme are refusing to drop their guard. New Forest East MP Julian Lewis said:
"If they are gradually changing their position it's only because of the immense pressure that the Daily Echo and community campaigners are bringing to bear.
"That pressure must be intensified until this dogmatic and absurd plan is consigned to the rubbish bin."
Health chiefs faced a barrage of criticism during the three-month public consultation period which ended a week ago tomorrow.
Now the trust has begun to study the responses to its proposal to close some or all of the beds at the five community hospitals at Hythe, Fordingbridge, Lyndhurst, Milford-on-Sea and Romsey.
If the scheme goes ahead locally based teams of specialists will be recruited to treat more patients at home. John Richards the trust's Chief Executive said:
"We recognise that there is a significant amount of anxiety in local communities about our proposals.
"We will be meeting key stakeholders to agree what services could be provided from the community hospitals and talk about the structure and remit of the new community teams.
"We do expect to modify our plans to accommodate what people have said to us including the need for a detailed costed plan.
"We remain committed to developing better community services to support people at home.
"This means reducing our dependence on hospital beds so that we can provide more local services for people with long-term conditions and develop community teams to help people recover at home.
"However we want to make sure our plans take account of the concerns of local people."
Mel Kendal leader of New Forest District Council said:
"To the extent that they appear to be modifying their original starting position I'm delighted.
"I consider their statement to be confirmation that they are prepared to listen but I can't go any further at this stage because I don't know what their final proposal will be."
The trust says that a decision will be taken at the end of next month.