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Dr. Julian Lewis: Exactly the same techniques have been used at Hythe and Fenwick hospitals. They relate to saying that the recruitment of nurses has been inadequate. At Hythe hospital, there was a shortfall for a month. When that shortfall was made good and those involved were ready to reopen, the PCT refused to allow them to do so. They are not a bunch a disinterested people who are trying to make an open-minded assessment, but a bunch of outside hatchet men who are determined to close those hospitals. The Minister says that only 60 per cent. of the people should have been there, but where will that 60 per cent. go when the hospitals are closed? It is not even those hospitals that are responsible for the financial deficits. The whole thing is a set-up.
Part of the consultation involves considering the better use of beds. For example, a recent bed audit at Southampton hospital showed that 30 per cent. of patients awaiting transfer from the acute hospitals were
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awaiting transfer to community hospitals. That equates to 23 patients for the New Forest. Community hospital provision for those patients needs to be spelt out in the strategy document and should be considered across the piece to ensure that patients are treated in community hospitals, not acute hospitals, where that best serves their interests. However, those people who would be better placed outside community hospitals should be looked after in an appropriate service for their needs elsewhere. Therefore, the discussion relates to considering how the whole service might best be provided.
The Lymington unit, while still open, has also experienced some staffing difficulties. Against that backdrop, I would at least hope that hon. Members will recognise that the status quo is not an option. The alliance has taken a broad approach to identify a way forward. It has presented strategic options to improve community services for adults and older people to the two PCT boards and to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight strategic health authority.
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I shall point out a number of new services that are available in the community. A new respiratory assessment unit for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease opened on 1 July, thus allowing New Forest patients to be seen closer to home, rather than having to travel to Southampton. The heart failure nurse for the New Forest, based at Hythe hospital with a clinic at Lymington, offers lifestyle and nutrition advice and support on coping with heart failure. The nurse also makes home visits. The endoscopy service, based at Lymington and available to New Forest residents, has expanded, thus allowing more people to be seen closer to home.
All those issues are difficult because people get used to what they have, but this is part of an exciting agenda, with more money that the Government have provided, to develop services that are not only fit for purpose but have a sustainable future in an ever-changing health environment.