By Sarah Jones
Southern Daily Echo – 18 November 2005
Campaigners leading the fight to save five community hospitals in the New Forest and Romsey have cancelled plans to lobby the Government. Three MPs spearheading the protest say they are cautiously optimistic following a series of meetings with health bosses.
A public outcry prompted New Forest Primary Care Trust (NFPCT) to have a major rethink about their controversial plans to axe up to 106 hospital beds, as reported in the Daily Echo. In a dramatic U-turn last month, they announced that cottage hospitals in Hythe, Lyndhurst, Milford-on-Sea, Fordingbridge and Romsey would not shut.
The Daily Echo-backed Save Our Community Hospitals (SOCH) campaign raised a 40,000-signature petition and a 2,000-strong protest rally. A statement issued by New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis, New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne and Romsey MP Sandra Gidley said:
"As a gesture of good faith, SOCH has decided to put its planned protest meeting with Health Minister Caroline Flint MP into abeyance, to give the new approach a chance to develop”.
The politicians say they will not stop scrutinising the PCT, which is pressing ahead with plans to provide more care in people's own homes. They said that issues including the continued closure of the Fenwick Hospital in Lyndhurst remain key concerns.
"We shall proceed with cautious optimism and be ready to return to full campaigning tempo, if it seems that the basic requirements for the community hospitals are again in jeopardy"
said the MPs.
"If, indeed, this is a victory, then it is a victory for common sense, for the community which made its voice heard, and for the supporters of the individual hospitals”.
Trust bosses, who need to save £17.3m this year, have not confirmed whether any hospital beds will be closed after next March.
* * *
'YOUR VOICES HAVE BEEN HEARD'
By Chris Yandell
Southern Daily Echo – 26 November 2005
'We have listened and learned' – That is the message from health bosses who have ditched plans to axe scores of beds at community hospitals in Romsey and the New Forest.
Thousands of patients are now to benefit from plans to revitalise the five community hospitals after health chiefs approved plans to turn them into centres of excellence for stroke victims and orthopaedic patients. Officials had a major rethink following the success of the Daily Echo-backed campaign by the Save Our Community Hospitals action group.
Protesters staged a huge rally at Lyndhurst in September and also raised a petition signed by more than 40,000 people. Now New Forest Primary Care Trust has drawn up plans to give the hospitals a new lease of life.
The proposals were unveiled in a 73-page report, which gave managers the go-ahead to finalise their plans. The report referred to the outcome of the public consultation exercise and added:
"We have listened and learned”.
Hythe and Romsey hospitals are due to become centres of orthopaedic excellence. Officials are already looking at the level of demand for the service, which could be operational by April. The trust also wants to increase stroke services at Milford-on-Sea Hospital and expand the facilities for stroke, and orthopaedic patients at Fordingbridge.
However, the fate of the Fenwick Hospital, Lyndhurst, is still unclear.
The trust is working with the League of Friends and social services to "define the future role" of the hospital, board members were told. Plans to expand services at other hospitals in the Forest follow a series of meetings with GPs, MPs and councillors.
Dr Peter Hockey, the trust's Medical Director, said:
"The two most common conditions requiring rehabilitation are stroke and orthopaedics, so we're proposing to develop centres of excellence in this type of care.
"This will be easily transferable to general rehabilitation and will allow us to use our facilities flexibly to provide excellent care."
John Richards, the trust's Chief Executive, said:
"This is an extremely positive way forward and gives us a strong framework for developing services.
"What we have here is the basis of a completely new plan."
New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis, leader of the Save Our Community Hospitals campaign, was unable to attend the meeting but his assistant, Colin Smith, was among those present. He said:
"We want to believe the trust has changed its approach but the acid test will be what happens to the Fenwick Hospital”.