Shadow minister tours Wells Hospital

The shadow health minister urged the government to make good its financial commitment to bring care “closer to home” as he toured Wells Community Hospital yesterday.

The shadow health minister urged the government to make good its financial commitment to bring care “closer to home” as he toured Wells Community Hospital yesterday.

Andrew Lansley visited North Norfolk to discuss a raft of healthcare issues including a bid to restore the 12 beds lost when the wards at Wells were closed in 2004.

The hospital re-opened as a Community Venture in 2006 following a public campaign and is now home to a range of independent and NHS outpatient clinics.

But a planned construction of a �1.5m new ward, a central idea in the re-launch initiative, was delayed while Wells Community Hospital and Hospice Trust's bid for government funding stalled.

The bid needs the endorsement of NHS Norfolk before an application can be submitted for a share of �750m earmarked by ministers for community hospitals.

Mr Lansley said only a third of the fund had been allocated so far and asked the government to deliver its commitment by funding projects like the one at Wells, which was hailed as an example of how the “community venture” model could work alongside the NHS.

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“A lot has changed since the last time I was here in 2005,” he said. “But three years down the line, it is clear that some of the recognition of the value of community hospitals is not finding its way into the decisions by the primary care trusts (PCTs). I hope we can do much more in that direction.

“There has to be a clear understanding of the benefit of community hospitals. In an area like North Norfolk there is a relatively elderly population, distributed along a long coastline, where access to services matters a great deal. We have to ensure that the resources get through to the front line and enable these quality services to be provided in accessible locations.”

Mr Lansley said he had a meeting earlier this week with Sir Neil McKay, chief executive of the Strategic Health Authority, who was “enthusiastic” about the Wells venture.

Project director Peter Rainsford said: “I was delighted that Andrew was able to visit. It is very important for us that the problems we face and the solutions we are finding join up with the national situation and I hope that he can help deliver that.”

Earlier, Mr Lansley had visited dentists in North Walsham and met the Kelling Hospital Appeal Committee regarding the 2007 closure of the 22-bed Lascelles ward.

The group's campaign to overturn the closure was dealt a blow in October when a High Court judge ruled that the decision was not made unlawfully. Mr Lansley said the way forward was for the commissioning decisions to be led by GPs. “It is very important for GPs collectively to make formal decisions about what the commissioning intentions of the PCT should be,” he said. “If the GPs say what they want it should be included in the strategic planning.”

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