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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Nurse fear on community hospitals
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter in Bournemouth

Hospital care
Community hospitals provide respite care
Community hospitals are still under threat despite government assurances that more money would be pumped into local services, nurses say.

In January, ministers outlined plans to move more care from hospitals to community services.

But nurses said despite the assurances many community hospitals were still facing closure.

The Royal College of Nursing conference in Bournemouth overwhelmingly backed a motion to campaign to keep them open.

We must not let these jewels in the crown just disappear
John Hill, nurse

There are 330 community hospitals in England, providing a combination of respite and intermediate care.

The recent white paper called for a new generation of community facilities providing such care alongside minor surgery and GP care.

Ministers promised they would invest in another 50 community hospitals.

But campaigners say nearly a third of the current hospitals are still under threat, pointing out it was easier to for hospital bosses to close community units than acute hospitals.

Making a difference

Jeremy Benton, a community hospital nurse in south Oxfordshire, said six local hospitals were under threat.

He told delegates at the conference: "It is not just in rural areas where these hospitals can make a difference.

"They provide an invaluable service for vulnerable patients in urban areas as well."

But he added it was possible to fight cut backs. A charity had taken over providing services at one hospital, while a local councilor had taken out an injunction to prevent the closure of services at another.

Other nurses also spoke out against potential closures. John Hill, from Yorkshire and the Humber, said they were important because they provided a diversity of care.

"We must not let these jewels in the crown just disappear."

And Susan Wisdom, a nurse in East Suffolk, added her local community hospital was at risk of losing as many as two thirds of its beds to "overcome deficits".

"These are used by frail and vulnerable people as a place to recover. Rehabilitation is becoming a dirty word. Services are being under-funded."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are committed to building, re-building and refurbishing at least 50 community hospitals as part of a 100 million investment and our recent white paper makes it clear that community hospitals should not be lost in response to short-term budgetary pressures.

"We are not leaving this shift of care to chance and have issued a letter to the NHS clarifying the need to test local plans against these white paper proposals."

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