Fears that Pendle Community Hospital closure proposal is ‘done deal’

Community Hospital.
Community Hospital.

health bosses have pledged no decisions have been taken to close Pendle Community Hospital - and say they will listen to the views of the people before the future of the hospital is decided.

Representatives from NHS East Lancashire met Pendle Council’s Community Hospital Scrutiny Panel this week to discuss the review of NHS rehabilitation services currently under way, where they heard the campaign launched in Leader-Times newspapers last week had already attracted more than 1,300 signatures, on coupons returned to us and petitions in Colne and Nelson at the weekend.

And they faced two hours of tough questioning from panel members and other councillors and trade union officials in the audience over their plans.

Opening the meeting, Tim Mansfield, assistant director for commissioning for NHS East Lancashire, Martin Hodgson, director of service development for East Lancashire Hospitals and Susan Warburton, head of community services (NHS), gave a presentation in which they said older people had told them they wanted hospital services to be available when they needed them but as a last resort - whenever possible, they wanted to be supported to stay in their own homes.

With this in mind, a “virtual ward” pilot scheme had been launched which had received positive feedback from many of the 105 patients involved, they said.

But questioners countered this by saying there would always be a need for patients who needed 24/7 rehabilitation care which could not be provided in the home - and asked where this would be provided if the Nelson hospital was to close.

Mr Hodgson said, from next April, health commissioners had said rehabilitation services at Pendle Community Hospital for patients from Blackburn and Darwen would be transferred to a locality nearer their homes, meaning 20 beds and 30% of the hospital’s income would be removed. He warned it was not possible to run a hospital with very few patients in as this was not financially viable.

Opening questions from the public, former Pendle Council leader Sue Nike said she was proud of the hospital, which was very valuable to local people, and there was a need for a facility where people could be looked after by “properly trained people in a proper constituted hospital.”

She went on: “If you are a caring profession, you will agree the way to do that is to keep it local, near to where they live so they can have visitors and keep their spirits up.

“People do not want to have to travel to Blackburn. Go back to the people making the decision and tell them this is not what we want to happen.”

Coun. Eileen Ansar said: “Let Blackburn with Darwen take their beds but we do not want our beds replacing. It takes a day to travel to Blackburn and back by public transport. You are taking everything we have. You talk of virtual wards - you are living in a world of virtual reality, not the real world.”

And Coun. Ann Kerrigan accused health bosses of “treating people like cattle.”

“You need to be very careful about leaving people to rot in their own homes,” she said.

Sue Warburton said while there had been some negative feedback on virtual wards, including from GPs, this had changed and most were now back on board with the idea.

County Coun. Mohammed Iqbal accused bosses of having a “done deal” over the closure of the hospital and asked: “How many names will it take for you to take the decision back to the drawing board?”

Mr Hodgson said: “None of us would deny there is passionate support for local hospital services and we would take notice of a significant number of protesters.”

Former Burnley Health Care Trust chairman Azhar Ali praised Mr Hodgson for being “brave” to face questioners but said: “I believe a decision has already been made and much of what we have heard is fudge and gobbledegook. The people making the decisions are invisible. I am sure we will get at least 5,000 names on our petition.”

The panel and the health bosses are due to hold another meeting in January.

NHS East Lancashire has pledged to hold a public consultation on the future of the hospital when the implications of its commissioning decisions are clearer.

Petitioners will be out in town centres again tomorrow, while copies are due to be placed in GP surgeries in Pendle.