Town councillors in Horncastle are seeking an urgent meeting with health chiefs before deciding what action to take over controversial proposals for Louth Hospital.
For years, the hospital has offered a lifeline to residents in the Horncastle area - but battle-lines have been over potential changes.
Health service chiefs want to reduce the number of beds in two wards and implement a system involving more home care for patients.
However, campaigners claim the changes are another downgrade in services , leading to concerns about the hospital’s future viability.
Horncastle councillors discussed the changes at their monthly meeting last Tuesday.
However, they stopped short of supporting a strongly worded motion condemning plans put forward by the Lincolnshire East Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
Instead, councillors voted to arrange a meeting with health chiefs responsible for the hospital in an attempt to gain more information about the changes.
Town and district councillor Fiona Martin said no-one wanted to see the hospital close.
She acknowledged public feelings were running high, and admitted there were doubts about the provision for any additional home care with resources already stretched.
However, she stressed it was too early in the process for the council to make a decision on the changes.
Coun Martin pointed out a public survey did not close until this Friday (October 19) and details of a consultation - based on that survey - had not been drawn up.
Health chiefs are proposing cutting the number of beds in two wards to either 16 or 20.
Last summer, the wards featured 50 beds but that figure was reduced amid safety issues.
Coun Martin said she had attended a meeting of ‘stakeholders’ - at which the 20-bed option gained most support.
She told fellow councillors: “I would be the first to advocate the continuing opening of Louth Hospital.
“It’s a marvellous facility and is used a lot by the people of Horncastle.
“I don’t think anyone would want to see it close.
“Personally, I would not like to see 50 beds, if it is not safe to do so, and if there isn’t the back up.
“However, we are not yet at that stage of formal consultation. We need more information.”
Coun Martin was backed by Mayor Coun Brian Burbidge who said he had attended a public meeting organised by the town’s MP Victoria Atkins.
Coun Burbidge stressed a reduction in beds would ‘not be the end’ of the hospital.
He described the CCG’s proposals in favour of home based care as ‘a complete transformation’ in the way patients are dealt with.
Coun Burbidge said: “They (patients) will no longer move from bed to bed or ward to ward.
“My understanding is, it is an integrated care package.
“A lot of people staying in hospital could be treated better by being at home.
“That is the thought behind it.
“This (proposal) is not the end - 20 beds is not the end of Louth Hospital.
“If they need more beds, they (the CCG) will look at it again.”
Earlier, councillors were asked to support a motion put forward by Coun Dominic Hinkins who spoke passionately about the impact the changes would have.
The motion in full was:
•That the Lincolnshire East Clinical Commissioning Group has consulted on changing the provision at County Hospital, Louth on Manby and Carlton wards, and the options are between 16 beds plus 6 chairs; or 20 beds plus 6 chairs.
•That East Lindsey’s Local Plan mandates minimum house building for Louth of 1,204 homes, and an overall district-wide housing requirement of 7,819 homes for the period 2017-2031. This growing local population will need increasing health infrastructure and employment.
•The significant transport difficulties inherent in East Lindsey’s rurality, and the corresponding burden placed on residents who will have to travel further when hospital provision is reduced, with particular focus on the negative effect on vulnerable and/or economically disadvantaged residents.
•The diminished resources available to neighbouring health trusts, and for care in the community.
The motion went on to call on councillors to:
•Recognise that the reduction from 50 beds at Manby and Carlton wards to 20 or 16 is a downgrade in local hospital provision, which will not be sufficiently mitigated by the proposed changes to Neighbourhood Working.
•Call on the Government to prevent the loss of these beds, and to fund the NHS adequately so that Louth County Hospital is under no threat of being downgraded.
•Communicate our deep concern about the downgrading of provision at Louth County Hospital to Lincolnshire East CCG and to the County Council.
Coun Hinkins highlighted a number of issues raised by residents and some hospital staff members at the meeting organised by Ms Atkins.
Despite denials from health chiefs at that meeting, he said people were worried about the downgrading of facilities - and whether there was funding or staffing for more patients to be treated at home.
He said people were genuinely concerned about the implications of replacing beds with more home care.
Coun Hinkins said the CCG had already gone back on a pledge to restore the 50 beds - after safety improvements had been carried out.
Coun Hinkins said: “There was a lot of concern from the public and hospital staff that the resources for home care don’t exist. The CCG admitted there are issues with neighbourhood working.
“Patients are being discharged too early after operations.
“It’s not premature to raise these concerns. The change has happened.”
However, Coun Hinkins failed to secure a seconder for the motion.
Councillors voted 11-1 to support the motion put forward by Coun Martin.
It read: “We (the town council) wait for the formal consultation to be announced.
“We do recognise that Louth Hospital is an important resource and is much valued by the people of Horncastle.”
Resident Andrew Neal told councillors patients in Horncastle were already being sent as far as Scunthorpe for treatment, because of cuts at hospitals including Louth.