Saving local hospital at centre of election campaign

Sign for St Peter's Hospital and banners saying 'I was birthed here 2007' and a sign that says 'we love St Peter's'
St Peter's Hospital in Maldon provides a midwife-led birthing unit and stroke rehabilitation beds [Simon Dedman/BBC]

Residents have said proposed plans to close their NHS community hospital could negatively affect local people.

Health bosses want to relocate services from St Peter's Hospital in Maldon to other units in Essex and could sell the building for an estimated £6.2m.

The NHS says keeping the building open will cost "a lot of money".

Brenda Coombes lives in Maldon and was one of several people who told the BBC's Your Voice, Your Vote that this was an important general election issue.

The accountant, who has lived in the town for 28 years, said she would be "absolutely furious" if the hospital closed.

Under the plans, the midwife-led birthing unit, stroke rehabilitation beds and outpatient services would be moved to other hospitals.

But Mrs Coombes said these units were hard to access by public transport.

The NHS had let the hospital go to "rack and ruin, so it's an excuse to close the facility", she said.

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Susan Hawkins, 73, told the BBC it would take her a whole day to travel by bus for a blood test at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

"I think it is all done out of greed," she claimed.

"It is a prime piece of building land - right in the centre of Maldon and somebody wants that land for building on.

"It will be dreadful for the local community".

A public consultation on the NHS's plans for community hospitals in mid Essex closed earlier this year.

In alphabetical order by surname, we asked the general election candidates for Maldon what they thought.

Simon Burwood - Liberal Democrat

Mr Burwood said St Peter's was an essential part of medical services in Maldon.

"Local people deserve the best quality local services in decent buildings which are fit for purpose," he said.

"Years of underfunding have damaged [hospital] buildings, but the soul is still very much intact."

He said he would "be pushing" for St Peter's to be one of the sites that the Lib Dems would bring "back up to standard".

Patients who did have to travel by public transport would benefit from a Lib Dem government, he said, and added: "Our plans include providing more powers to the local council to enable them to restore and increase bus services and routes, especially in our rural areas."

Isobel Doubleday - Green Party

The local Green Party did not respond to the BBC's request for comment.

Its manifesto has pledged a big cash injection into the NHS.

In the first year, it said it would increase the budget in England by £8bn. It is currently £165bn.

The Greens said they would deliver:

  • A year-on-year reduction in waiting lists

  • Guaranteed access to an NHS dentist

  • Guaranteed rapid access to a GP and same-day access in case of urgent need

  • An immediate boost to the pay of NHS staff, including the restoration of junior doctors’ pay, to help with staff retention

Onike Gollo - Labour

Ms Gollo said: “The Tories have had 14 years to fix St Peter’s Hospital and to turnaround the lack of investment in NHS services there, but they have only now paid attention to this because of the general election campaign.

“Labour’s plan is to build an NHS fit for the future and cut waiting times, with 40,000 more appointments every week."

She said "community health services" should be "delivered locally" and added: "I would be a strong voice to ensure that Maldon gets the health services that are deserved."

Pamela Walford - Reform UK

Miss Walford said if she was elected, she would fight to keep the hospital open for the local people.

"There are parts of the building that are bad so they would need to be replaced but to close the whole place for housing - the pressure on the local doctors would be colossal," she explained.

"I want to be the voice in parliament for Maldon and surrounding areas."

John Whittingdale - Conservative

John Whittingdale who is wearing a black suit with a white shirt and black tie. He is smiling at the camera.
John Whittingdale has previously said services at St Peter's Hospital should remain in the town [Kate Bradbrook/BBC]

Mr Whittingdale did not respond to the BBC's request for comment, but has previously said the services at St Peter's should remain in the town.

The Tory manifesto has also pledged to continue to increase NHS spending above inflation in each year of the next parliament.

The manifesto said: "We will invest in more and better facilities, continuing to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030 and investing proportionately more in out-of-hospital services over time.

"We will modernise NHS primary care services and bring health and care closer to patients."

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