FEARS have been raised over Minehead Community Hospital’s long-term future as health bosses try to save costs and provide more care ‘closer to home’.
Although there are no immediate plans to close any of the 13 community hospitals across the county, the idea has not been ruled out.
Dr Rosie Benneyworth, from the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, which is responsible for the NHS budget in the county, told the BBC the closure of community hospitals was “possible”.
She added: “We have a changing age group of patients in Somerset and we need to make sure that patients with long-term conditions and the frail elderly get the best care they can and best support in the community and that may mean we need to use resources in a different way.”
The possibility arises as the Somerset CCG looks at ways of making ‘cost efficiency savings’ over the next five years.
Paul Courtney, NHS communications manager, said: “Somerset CCG has always been financially balanced and although it is still getting extra money each year from the government, it is not enough to stay ahead of patient demand for services."
At the beginning of May, health bosses reopened Minehead Hospital’s Minor Injury Unit overnight after a temporary closure which was due to last until August.
The decision followed a public campaign to get the unit reopened.
Cllr Mandy Chilcott said: “When your community is like ours and your nearest district hospital is an hour away then the community hospital is vital.
“If plans were made to close the hospital then I and the community would rally together to make sure it wouldn’t happen.
“We have demonstrated very recently that we will do whatever it takes to get the best for Minehead.”
An interim report which went to Somerset CCG in February revealed that at certain times, only 74% of beds in the 13 hospitals were in use.
Although the report did not discuss or recommend closing any of the hospitals or shutting beds, it invited discussion about community health services.
This is in response to an anticipated rise in the number of elderly people in the county over the next ten years, many of whom will be living with long-term conditions.
The report also said that 45% of patients would be better cared for at home or in a residential facility.
Mr Courtney added: “Services have to change as we find ways to cope with patient demand.
“One of the main reasons many elderly people end up in community hospitals is because of falling over at home.
“They might be managing well but after the fall and a stay in hospital, they can lose their independence and become fearful.
“What we’re trying to do is stop them needing to come into hospital in the first place by providing care in the community.”
Health bosses are now discussing plans with communities to find out their views on the report.
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