Swaffham's new hospital hopes dashed

Hopes of a new community hospital in Swaffham have been dashed after the plans were shelved to save money.But there is relief that the hospital's future seems secure.

Hopes of a new community hospital in Swaffham have been dashed after the plans were shelved to save money.

But there is relief that the hospital's future seems secure.

Swaffham hospital has the only community beds in West Norfolk, but plans to replace it with a new building on a new site have been dropped by the area's primary care trust, NHS Norfolk.

The new hospital would have cost £10m to build and nearly £1m a year extra to run because of the higher number of beds.

West Norfolk has fewer community beds than the rest of the county. NHS Norfolk admits that 18 beds is not enough, and the new hospital would have had 24. But now it says the high cost cannot be justified, especially since the existing hospital is in good condition, having been refurbished in 1995. It has pledged to look again at the issue of community beds in the west of the county before the year is up.

There had been high hopes for a new hospital in Swaffham, which could have been the centre for rehabilitation for West Norfolk. At one point there were also fears the town would have had no hospital, especially when there were problems finding a site. It needed 24 beds to be cost-effective, according to NHS Norfolk. But the shadow over the future of the hospital seems to have been lifted.

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David Gulliver, chairman of the Friends of Swaffham Hospital, said: “Everybody in Swaffham is disappointed, but we are pleased that the initial campaign to retain the intermediate beds at the hospital which were going to be removed was a success.

“After that initial success, we went on from there hoping to have a new hospital built to ensure that health care in the area was maintained at a high standard and we know there is going to be an influx of residents.”

He added: “Unfortunately, we are aware of the constraints regarding funding.”

He said the pressure would remain to get a new facility. “It is up to the likes of us to keep the heat on the PCT. We know the policies change from month to month and we are just hoping in the future to get a new build.”

South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser said NHS Norfolk had done a lot of work looking at the future of community beds in the area. He said: “The chairman of NHS Norfolk gave me an assurance in May that, if the outcome of the work that they had been undertaking did not result in the building of a new unit, NHS Norfolk would continue to support the current facility.

“This means we have the assurance for which local people fought so hard - that Swaffham Community Hospital as we know it has been saved for the foreseeable future. I am delighted with this outcome.”

NHS Norfolk chairman Sheila Childerhouse said: “We have got a unit there that is very effective and efficient and provides extremely good care.”

But Luc D'Iorio, a non-executive director of NHS Norfolk, said: “We had confirmed there is a problem in West Norfolk. We are going to have to at some point address capacity constraints in Swaffham.”