Big cuts in spending plans for new hospital

Heath chiefs have pruned their plans for a rebuild of Cromer hospital from �25m to �15m because of mounting pressure on their budget caused by the recession.

People across north Norfolk need to stand up and be counted if they want to keep hopes of a rebuild of Cromer hospital alive.

The rallying call comes just days after health chiefs announced they were pruning their plans for a rebuild of the hospital from �25m to �15m because of mounting pressure on their budget caused by the recession.

The news - the latest in a long line of setbacks and delays for a dream stretching back more than a decade - was greeted locally with a mixture of anger and resigned acceptance.

It means a cutback in planned and existing services, which saw senior executives of the hospital authority voicing disappointment and frustration.

Veteran campaigner and town councillor Vera Woodcock this week urged action from the wider community in Cromer and from the many other towns and parishes who either use the current hospital or would use a new set of services.

'People are shocked, disgusted and find the whole situation quite unbelievable,' said Mrs Woodcock.

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'There are some people who now believe more than ever that we are never going to get a new hospital, which would be disastrous for so many people. We are already deprived in many cases in north Norfolk, and no hospital or a hospital with reduced services would create more deprivation.

'Many of us are drained by the amount of time this has been going on, but I truly believe that it is vitally important that we fight and bring to the attention of the NHS trust how angry people are about it.'

The revised �15m scheme will be almost totally paid for by the �11m and �1m legacies left by local millionairesses Sagle Bernstein and Phyllis Cox - without which a rebuild would not be happening at all.

Cromer is a satellite of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, which runs the site and is currently at odds with planners over a �26m scheme involving two operating theatres, which was doubled in scope last year as bosses discovered their foundation status gave them 'new found financial freedoms.'

Sadly the current national financial crisis, and anticipated long term cutbacks in public spending, has shackled those freedoms and seen them think again.

A decision to look at other options has been backed unanimously by the N&N board, said chairman David Prior.

Ironically when he was MP in 2001 he was badgering dithering health bosses to reveal their plans to an impatient public after the third business case for a rebuild in six years faltered.

He said: 'This was a difficult decision. It is very disappointing and I totally accept the frustration of people in North Norfolk.

'The reaction is bound to be one of disappointment, but also realism that the world has changed.

'But there is a commitment to rebuild at Cromer, because refurbishment would be putting good money after bad.'

Concerns had been mounting over recent months when the tenders for the scheme failed to bring in the lower price that had been expected because of a depressed construction industry, and because of the worsening economy and government funding prospects.

Trust chief executive Anna Dugdale said they had to balance the needs of Cromer with providing patient care for 700,000 people across Norfolk. Work would now start with medical staff to identify the health services for the revised scheme, which would mean the loss of the new planned theatres, and the existing one, which did minor operations such as hernias.

Hospital staff, who number about 100, unions and governors have been told, along with local MP Norman Lamb, who said local people felt bemused why the rebuild had taken so long.

It was partly down to it having been championed by a string of different health authorities, making it a 'victim of perpetual obsessive reorganisation by the government.'

Mr Lamb said the Cromer hospital rebuild 'should have happened years ago,' but he was pleased the authorities remained committed to Cromer and urged that the next plans went through without further delay.

'My greatest fear is that with public finances in a total mess, unless we get on with it, we could lose the rebuild completely which would be disastrous.'

Sagle Bernstein's 91-year-old cousin Teddy Thoms said she would be 'turning in her grave' over the delay since she left the money in 2000, adding 'she hoped she could help people after her death'.

Hospital friends chairman Mary Northway said local people were 'punch drunk' with the constant revision of plans and setbacks over many years, adding: 'This is the biggest impact so far of the credit crunch on Cromer, and the real sadness is the total cost of all the work that has gone into plans over the years.'