ANGRY residents have called for a march through Henley if 18 beds are not installed at the new Townlands Hospital.
Almost 3,000 people have now signed the Henley Standard’s
Save Our Beds petition since it was launched two weeks ago, demanding that health chiefs stick by their promises for the new £16million “health campus.”
The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group is proposing to replace the 14 beds on the current Peppard ward with just five in a care home to be built next to the new hospital. This would leave Townlands with no beds for at least six months from when the ward is closed on November 1 and the care home opens.
On Monday â?? the last day of a five-week public consultation on the plans â?? the Henley Standard
presented a 2,500-name petition to the commissioning group at its offices in Oxford. Since then, hundreds more signatures have been added. The commissioning group says it will consider all its responses to the consultation before deciding whether to press ahead with its plans for a rapid access care unit offering same-day treatment on just three days a week.
The Townlands Steering Group claimed this week that the consultation had failed because the process was “flawed” and they would formally challenge its validity. Meanwhile, there have been calls for the Save Townlands Action Group to be revived if the commissioning group does not bend to the weight of public pressure from medical experts, former Townlands staff, residents and councillors.
The action group was set up in June 2005 to campaign for a new hospital amid fears that the current hospital was to be closed.
It arranged a march through the town centre which was attended by 10,000 people and delivered a 1,500-strong petition to prime minister Tony Blair in Downing Street.
Mike Stanton, of Deanfield Avenue, Henley, said the new plans were like history repeating itself.
His father-in-law Gordon Pontin, who died at Townlands in 2000, and wife Nicky, who died in 2012, were both members of the League of Friends of Townlands Hospital.
Mr Stanton, 69, a management consultant, said : “I remember very well my father-in-law’s strength of feeling that promises were made when the Henley War Memorial Hospital was closed in the Eighties.
“They were told the funds from selling that would be used to develop Townlands but the money just Â disappeared into the NHS.
“The real need for Henley is 34 beds: the existing 14 for ‘step down’ care, a further six for ‘step up care’, increased by 70 per cent for the growing elderly population.
“I want to challenge what they are doing just on the basis of the numbers. It ought to be 30 or 40 beds but at least 18 beds is what was promised.”
Mr Stanton says a protest should be made to the highest level of the NHS if the 18 beds weren’t delivered.
He said: “If the commissioning group does not change its mind we should move into sharper action, perhaps by reactivating the Save Townlands Action Group.
“It would be for Ian Reissmann and Peter Ashby [of the steering group] to get the action group going again but I would be happy to support them.
“If the NHS and commissioning group think they can say we are still building Townlands with only five beds they can think again.”
Pauline Buckett, whose late husband Terry was involved in the original campaign, said he would have been “disgusted” with the latest proposals.
Mr Buckett, a former mayor, chaired the action group and delivered the petitions to Downing Street. He died in November 2009 aged 56.
His widow said: “Terry’s dying wish was for me to stay with the action group until the hospital was built but what good is a hospital without beds?
“He would have been absolutely disgusted and would probably have called for another march around the town had he been here.”
Mrs Buckett, 62, of Vicarage Road, Henley, was one about 100 people who were locked out of last week’s public meeting when the town hall reached capacity.
She said: “It’s okay having meetings at the town hall but only so many people can get in. I feel a strong protest is needed but I don’t know if anything will change their minds.”
Lina Evans, whose father Charles Edwards was treated at Townlands while suffering from prostate cancer and who had two sons at the maternity unit, said: “I find it amazing that they want to cut beds when the ones there already are nearly all full. It’s ridiculous.
“I’d be very sad to lose those beds, especially as the beds at the Royal Berkshire Hospital are overloaded with patients as well.”
Mrs Evans, 80, from Stoke Row, said: “I was very pleased with the treatment at Townlands. The staff were kind, caring, considerate and generally excellent.”
Councillor Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, said: “We think it’s important to have the right plans for the hospital and a march is definitely one of the possible ways we can go.
“I still hope the commissioning group will think again in light of the response they’ve had. We will be looking at all options to encourage the commissioning group but it’s up to the community to decide what to do and how we do it.”
A spokeswoman for the commissioning group said: “We welcome the interest of local residents in the development of health services in Henley and will consider the petition along with the detailed responses given in the returned consultation questionnaires.
“All feedback received will be analysed and a report written for the group to consider as part of its decision-making process.
“The group’s governing body will meet on July 30 and will consider this report and recommendations for next steps.
“A separate, more detailed document reflecting all of the consultation feedback will also be published at this time and shared with those who have requested a copy.”