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Bucket brigade fight for Wells hospital

PUBLISHED: 15:58 26 August 2009 | UPDATED: 10:55 07 July 2010

HOSPITAL volunteers took to the streets for a fundraising "flag day" as a campaign to restore NHS inpatient beds to Wells gathered momentum.

Wells Community Hospital was closed by health chiefs in 2004 with the loss of 12 beds, but reopened as a community venture in 2006 after a spirited public campaign backed by the Times.

HOSPITAL volunteers took to the streets for a fundraising “flag day” as a campaign to restore NHS inpatient beds to Wells gathered momentum.

Wells Community Hospital was closed by health chiefs in 2004 with the loss of 12 beds, but reopened as a community venture in 2006 after a spirited public campaign backed by the Times.

Since then, partnerships have been built with private practitioners and the NHS to offer a range of outpatient services and clinics to patients in the surrounding area.

But no agreement has yet been reached with the health service which would make inpatient care in community beds viable again - a fundamental element of the relaunch initiative.

On Saturday, two teams of volunteers in Wells and Burnham Market donned blue sashes, waved placards and collected a total of £607.24 to help the campaign.

And hospital managers said they were in the “final stages” of discussions with NHS Norfolk which could return bed-based care to Wells and pave the way for a proposed £1.5m building to house the new wards.

Project manager Peter Rainsford said: “The job we were given in the days of the public consultation was to create a modern community hospital with beds, and that is still fundamental to our campaign - it is not

negotiable.

“The truth is we could have built the beds years ago but there is no point unless the NHS would be prepared to pay for patients to receive their bed-based care here, where appropriate.

“That has taken a long time and we are in the final stages. We are optimistic we might be able to come to an agreement in the coming months.”

Mr Rainsford praised the efforts of the hospital's volunteers. He said: “The fundraising is crucial. Everything we have done so far has been with charity or grant funding which have enabled us to keep the hospital open, develop services and continue our negotiations to re-open beds.”

Fundraising committee member Esmonde Hartnett said NHS beds were crucial to provide convalescence, respite care and end-of-life care.

“We have got to keep the hospital open because the beds are so badly needed, especially in an area like this where we have such a large elderly population. The collection buckets feel very heavy so from that point of view the support has been pretty good.”

Another volunteer, John Small, said: “People have come here and told us their parents and grandparents used to take them to Wells Hospital if they cut their feet on the beach when they were young. It is part of this community and always has been.”

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