THE Chase Community Hospital “is going to close” and there’s “nothing you can do about it”, according to East Hampshire District Council’s portfolio holder for Whitehill and Bordon.

However, although admitting “the story isn’t brilliant”, councillor Ferris Cowper said the only option now is to “replace it”.

His comments came in the wake of a petition calling for better health services in the town, which to date has collected 1,400 signatures both on and offline.

Speaking to Whitehill Town Council, on Monday, July 16, Mr Cowper’s definitive remarks confirmed health protesters’ long-held fears that the Chase Hospital has no future in the town’s regeneration.

However, despite the claim, an NHS spokesman told the Bordon Herald that the South East Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s position “has not changed”. They maintain that “no decisions” will be made on the hospital until after details on the proposed new health hub are drawn up.

James Brand, who launched the most recent petition, said as well as getting the best healthcare services in Bordon, one of the key tenets of his campaign was to “save the Chase”.

He was “absolutely shocked” to hear such decisive comments from Mr Cowper and remains concerned about service continuity. The worry - which he said many local people share - is that the Chase will close before the health hub is delivered.

Local healthcare has become an increasingly emotive topic recently, after NHS providers laid out plans to move a number of clinics out of Chase Hospital.

Hampshire Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust, which provides ear, nose and throat care, audiology, maxillofacial, paediatrics and X-ray, said it is “keen to re-locate as many of the services as possible from the Chase Community Hospital to Alton Community Hospital”.

Although the decision is in the hands of the Clinical Commissioning Group, which selects the clinics to buy in, the trust said “the number of patients using these services is small and is reducing”.

The NHS highlighted “the disproportionate costs” relative to “the activity delivered” at the Chase Hospital - sentiments which rekindled local concern and galvanised campaigners.

Among them is retired nurse Pauline Hiscock, who recalled stories of people not being referred to the Chase, and instead being sent further afield, which might add to the impression it is underused. She also wondered whether it was a wise decision to build new facilities, instead of improving what’s already in place.

“Why can’t the health hub be in the Chase Hospital?” she asked. “There’s plenty of room.”

Whitehill Town Council leader Mark Davison told the meeting a key problem is that the building is owned by NHS Property Services, which in effect rents space out.

This, he said, is “quite disgraceful” and sees “the NHS charging the NHS”. And as it has “chopped itself into so many small segments”, it’s difficult to “pin any one group down” and get clarity on these issues.

“God knows how it works, it’s just some sort of weird black hole,” he said.

Mr Davison also questioned the validity of claims that the Chase is simply under used.

“I am of the view that North Hampshire Hospitals have run this down on purpose, so they can pull their services,” he added. In the end, Mr Davison appreciates it’s “all down to money” and the NHS’ pursuit of efficiency.

Despite the “current state” of funding in the NHS, which makes delivering health infrastructure “anywhere” in the country “close to impossible”, Mr Cowper remained optimistic the town will get a “state-of-the-art healthcare facility”.

Insisting he was unable to “promise” any aspect of the project, he believes Whitehill and Bordon will one day host a “very functionally rich” health hub.

Ideally it will include GP-Plus - which is essentially a doctor who can respond to a far wider range of ailments, such as minor injuries - as well as X-ray facilities, a diagnostic centre and a private care home.

Mr Cowper shares the belief that Whitehill and Bordon, with its soon to increase population, needs these services. “And I am working my socks off to make that happen,” he said.

A business case is currently being drawn up for the new health hub. When complete, it will be submitted to the NHS and “at least” one private health provider.

Town councillor Andy Tree felt, for many residents, that this turn of events might seem all-too familiar. As it stands, he said, the “facts” as “we’re told”, are that the Chase is closing, and the business case for the new health hub does not even exist yet.

Ultimately, councillor Phillip Davies believed everyone wants the same thing - and that’s the best possible healthcare for Whitehill and Bordon. Councillors voted to support the petition “in principle”, but would only back the campaign’s feasible demands.

Whitehill and Bordon is one of the NHS’ Healthy New Towns.