Have your say: Lowestoft Hospital faces closure threat
PUBLISHED: 09:50 22 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:08 23 March 2013
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Lowestoft Hospital could be closed under plans for a major restructuring of health services in the town, The Journal can reveal today.
Staff were informed earlier this week about the potential closure of the community hospital in Tennyson Road which has served the town for more than a century.
As previously reported, HealthEast – the new NHS Clinical Commissioning Group serving Great Yarmouth and Waveney – is launching a public consultation within the next few months on the future of health care in and around Lowestoft.
The new health body, which takes over from NHS Norfolk and Waveney from April 1, has already drawn up provisional plans for new, modern medical services and facilities for the town. However, the closure of the hospital is one of the favoured options.
Having met front-line clinicians, volunteer groups and patients over recent months, Andy Evans, HealthEast chief executive, said: “Our intention now is to continue working with clinicians, patients and the public so that everyone can be involved in developing services for the future and further improving health care on the east coast.”
Last week, the new Kirkley Rise medical centre was unveiled in south Lowestoft, and a new multi-million pound second phase of the development is also being discussed.
Mr Evans said: “We are now planning a phase two for Kirkley Rise, which could have a brand new general practice – it might have day care facilities, a café, a benefits office, a health equipment base – we are now looking at a business case as a result of this pre-consultation.
“It is also clear for our planning over the next 10 to 15 years that Lowestoft Hospital will not be able to provide us with everything we need.”
He added: “We absolutely do realise we have to look at the needs of the populations of the north and south of Lowestoft – with modern facilities in both. If we are being prudent as a public body looking after the people of Lowestoft, we can’t rely on very old facilities.”
HealthEast, which is made up of GPs and other medical professionals, was formed 18 months ago to make commissioning decisions on behalf of local patients.
With new health services still at the heart of any planned developments for the hospital in Tennyson Road, a care home and sheltered housing could be considered for the site if the closure is agreed.
Mr Evans said: “One option will be to do nothing and leave Lowestoft Hospital as it is and the other option is looking at a better base for services going forward. We are very clear in saying this is for the benefits of people in Lowestoft.”
However, one Lowestoft Hospital worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said staff were upset at the plans.
“It was announced on Tuesday as a definite closure option. It could be this autumn, or by the end of the financial year,” the employee said. “I just think it’s so underhand – it is awful all the worry and stress (it has caused).”
Fears were last raised over for the future of the hospital in September 2011 when The Journal reported that NHS managers had closed the top floor, with 13 beds lost. In November last year, staff expressed concerns that the restructuring of services and departments moving elsewhere was another step towards its eventual closure.
At the time, the James Paget University Hospitals (JPUH) NHS Trust, which runs Lowestoft Hospital, dismissed these claims, But yesterday, its divisional manager, Fran O’Driscoll, said: “We have a duty to provide the best health care to patients and their carers in modern facilities that are fit for the future.
“Lowestoft Hospital is over 150 years old and, despite ongoing maintenance, it cannot be solely relied upon to provide 21st century health care. That does not mean the Lowestoft Hospital site will not be part of the vision for future health services.
“No decisions have yet been made. The forthcoming consultation process will provide us with a clear idea about the services required by the public and staff. In the autumn, decisions will be made about those services and the locations from which they will be provided. We have been keeping our staff up-to-date on the consultation process and the options being put forward.”
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Friends of Lowestoft Hospital said members were extremely disappointed to hear about the latest proposals. However, they understood that the hospital would need a major investment to bring its fabric up to modern medical standards.
■The first meeting of HealthEast’s governing body is being held next Thursday at Beccles House, Common Lane North, Beccles, starting at 1pm.
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