PLANS to move clinics out of Chase Community Hospital have been “revised” after residents showed their strength of feeling about healthcare in Whitehall and Bordon.
But Hampshire county councillor Adam Carew said that, if put into action, these “proposed cuts” would be a “further blow” to the hospital and would see the town moving in “exactly the wrong direction”.
Updating Hampshire County Council’s health and adult social care select committee (on which Mr Carew sits) on Tuesday, the NHS acknowledged: “The people of Whitehill and Bordon care passionately about the retention of local services.”
The NHS said relocating the services was “seen as a further erosion of local health provision”.
But the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s position remains largely unchanged with clinics still said to be under used. The Trust provides outpatient, community midwifery and X-ray services from the hospital.
But the Trust said it “no longer feels able to sustain efficient, economically viable” clinics in Whitehill and Bordon, due to low footfall and cost. This raised alarm bells with residents earlier this year and saw Bordon father James Brand launch a petition calling for better health services in the town, with 2,000 signatures to date.
Fears were compounded in July when East Hampshire District Council’s portfolio holder for Whitehill and Bordon, Ferris Cowper, said the hospital’s closure was inevitable.
But he added that the town can “replace it” with services provided in the proposed new health hub - a business case for which is currently being drawn up.
The Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is “keen to re-locate as many of the services as possible from the Chase Hospital to Alton Community Hospital” and, having told the local Clinical Commissioning Group so in February, said: “We continue to provide services beyond the six-month notice period that is strictly required.”
Following consultation, the trust said it would delay this even longer.
In a report to the county council, it proposed “that for the remaining outpatient clinics - audiology, ophthalmology (including orthoptics), maxillo-facial surgery and paediatrics - it extends its notice period to more than 12 months”.
“These clinics will not relocate until March 31, 2019, or earlier where alternative local provision is in place,” the trust added.
X-rays might also stay for longer, depending on “occupancy charges levied by NHS Property Services” which see the trust required to pay for the space even when it is not in use.
Whitehill Town Council leader Mark Davison previously commented on the “weird” way the NHS operates which, in effect, sees it charging itself for renting space.
An NHS spokesman told the Bordon Herald that this was national policy, although acknowledged that the fact different NHS organisations and trusts “are all individually accountable in their own way” can “seem confusing”.
Having engaged with local people, the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said five clear concerns emerged - the strength of feeling about the Chase and how the community is served; transport issues; the growth in population locally; lack of choice; and that local provision is more important than who provides it.
Transport for patients travelling to any healthcare setting is, the trust said, “problematic”.
“Whitehill and Bordon is poorly served and public transport to any hospital site is extremely difficult involving lengthy journeys and bus changes,” it added.
Mr Carew said these “proposed cuts” are “premature”, arriving “at a time when our town is already growing and about to double in size over the next twenty years”. “We are supposed to be one of the Government’s Healthy New Towns,” he added.
“Every service cut at Chase Hospital undermines its future viability. Once these services are lost it could be difficult getting them back.
“Chase Hospital has always been treated as the poor relation to Petersfield and Alton hospitals and, despite assurances from the NHS that the Chase will not close until a new health hub can be built, the withdrawal of NHS services by Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust will only serve to fuel local rumours that Chase Hospital could close.
“Until plans for a new state-of-the-art health campus are unveiled the only hope is that we can commission these services from other providers such as Royal Surrey. The truth is that Chase is still operating at a fraction of its capacity.
“Yet in attempt to make their own services more viable we are seeing more services being centralised at acute hospitals such as North Hampshire in Basingstoke. One factor in this seems to be the cost of renting space at the Chase which I believe is set nationally by NHS Property Services.”
Mr Carew, also a town councillor, said it was “vital” any decisions took public transport into account as: “It is extremely difficult for patients to access health services outside the town if they have no car.”
“The health and adult social care (HASC) select committee agreed that these proposed cuts were a major departure and that they could not at present agree to them, although the final decision will lie with the NHS not the county council,” he added.
“In order to give more time to provide alternative solutions it was decided the HASC would review the situation again probably in November.”