‘They would have helped’ - Communities ‘feeling loss’ of 80 hospital beds as coronavirus bites
- Credit: Nick Butcher
One coastal district is still “feeling the loss” of more than 80 hospital beds in the last four years, campaigners have said as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rise.
Four community hospitals have been closed across Waveney since 2016, in Lowestoft, Ditchingham, Southwold and Halesworth.
More than 50 of the beds were lost as part of a planned shake-up aimed at reducing the number of hospital admissions and helping patients recover quicker.
Cath Byford, chief nurse of the NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “We know most patients don’t want to go into hospital unless they really have to and that if they do, they want to come home again as soon as they can. Most will recover faster and better in their own home, where they are in a familiar environment and can get back to their normal daily routines. This reduces the risk of infection or loss of mobility for older people in particular.
“Working with our health and care partners, we are boosting capacity of sustainable, person-centred, alternatives to traditional hospital care. This includes a range of initiatives such as out of hospital teams, virtual wards, supported care and care at home teams.”
In 2015, Southwold Hospital and the Patrick Stead Hospital, in Halesworth, were earmarked for closure, in a move which healthcare bosses claimed would improve healthcare in the east.
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The move was aimed at introducing out-of-hospital teams of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other staff from the health and social care sector to provide treatment in the community and patients’ homes, reducing the number of admissions and saving £4.3 million per year.
Halesworth Town Councillor David Thomas said: “The hospital was a great asset to the town, and many people involved in the campaign were born there. It did provide a slight emergency facility for us, especially if someone needed an x-ray, but now we have nothing.
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“We are out on a limb and we have one of the largest elderly populations in Suffolk. If it had stayed open, one would expect it would have helped at a time like this.”
The plans were met with a similar reaction in Southwold, with the Save Our Southwold campaign group united in a bid to prevent the closure,
SouthGen chair Jessica Jeans said: “People felt the closure was a huge loss. A lot of people were born there and a lot of people died there. The staff were members of the community.
“People supported community hospitals because they meant patients could be taken care of within their community, but for whatever reason they are no longer seen as an efficient way. Now people have to go all the way to Gorleston, and it’s hard for people to travel so far, whether that’s for themselves or to visit loved ones.
“We have an elderly population here and it isn’t easy for them.”
Community benefit society SouthGen secured the site to transform it into a community hub housing Southwold Library, a nursery, a shared space for local businesses and a farm-to-fork cafe, as well as nine affordable homes.
In order buy the site, SouthGen partnered with Hastoe Housing Association, in the first partnership of its kind in the country.
Mrs Jeans said: “We knew we wouldn’t be able to save it for clinical purposes, that had been made clear, but we didn’t want it to become market housing, so we thought of a way to keep it serving the community in a new way.
“We are owned by members of the community and all profits are reinvested back into the town.
“With our partnership, we have become a template for how to do this around the country.”
The group aim to open the hub in the summer of 2021.
The 25-bed Lowestoft Hospital closed in 2016, despite the efforts of campaign group Lowestoft Coalition Against the Cuts, ending more than 150 years of service to the local community.
Under the plans, some health services were moved to Kirkley Rise, while a new health centre was proposed to be built in north Lowestoft, although this is yet to take place.
The Tennyson Road site was bought at auction in October 2018 for £475,000, with Brainwave Independence Group, a charity supporting people with brain injury and disabilities, opening a day centre on part of the site last year.
Christopher Brooks, chair of the Suffolk Pensioner’s Association, said: “We had been promised a new health facility in North Lowestoft, as well as Kirkley, when the hospital closed, but we didn’t want it to close in the first place.
“Sadly, it is all history. Each hospital bed is necessary and a lot of local ones have been closed down. They were ideal for when it was not safe enough to send people home, but without taking up beds at the JPUH.”
‘Financial difficulties’ close All Hallows
All Hallows Hospital, in Ditchingham, became the lastest closure in 2019, having previously provided North Suffolk and South Norfolk with a 30-bed community hospital.
The hospital had previously lost a number of beds in the 2015 shake-up which saw closures in Southwold and Halesworth.
Months prior, All Hallows Healthcare Trust announced all services, including homecare, daycare and a nursing home, were likely to close amid financial difficulties.
While several services were ultimately saved and transferred to other providers, the hospital closed in May, despite a public campaign to save all services reaching more than 8,600 signatures.
In February, plans were announced to transform the former hospital building into an adult neurorehabilitation service, expected to open this summer.
Jaime Larter, of the Save All Hallows campaign group, said: “We were so against the closure because of the level of care they provided.
“All of the mainstream hospitals are getting full and there are people who could have been treated at community hospitals and beds that could have been spared.
“We were lucky to have so much support from the community but I think that showed how important the services were to us.”
Ms Byford said: “We are looking forward to All Hallows Hospital in Ditchingham reopening later in the year. An adult neurorehabilitation service is to begin again at the hospital.
“The Oakleaf Group has been granted a lease to use the hospital, and it’s planning to carry out a programme of refurbishment to provide 29 specialist placements, which includes 4 transitional flats. It’s thought the new service could be up and running by summer 2020.
“In Halesworth, NHS Property Services is to invest around £750,000 to ensure the provision of health services from a much-valued building. Plans to refurbish the Rayner Green building have recently been approved. This will enable physiotherapy, phlebotomy and diabetic eye screening services to transfer from the Patrick Stead Hospital on the same site to the refurbished facility which was previously used as a day centre.
“The move will see the development of permanent, modern facilities on the site and demonstrates the CCG’s commitment to providing health services in Halesworth for local people.”
Paul Cross, NHS Property Services’ regional partnership director for the east of England, said: “We are delighted to be able to support the CCG to the benefit the people of Halesworth, by investing capital into transforming the Rayner Green
building, enabling the transfer of services into new, fit for purpose modern accommodation and making best use of our existing NHS estate.”