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Fight launched to save Shipston hospital

A LOT can change in six months and that is a realisation that has really hit home with those fighting to save Shipston hospital, the Ellen Badger.

In May the South Warwickshire Foundation Trust revealed an ambitious £17million development of the hospital site. A colourful brochure with architectural plans was widely distributed around the town that revealed the existing Ellen Badger Hospital, which was deemed unfit for purpose, would be demolished and a new hospital, GP surgery, health and wellbeing centre built on the expanded site.

Then in November a new two-phase scheme was quietly ushered in. The new surgery and wellbeing centre will go ahead in the first phase but the hospital has been relegated to the phase two, with no guarantees that it will actually go ahead.

The League of Friends of Shipston Hospital have now shifted gear in response, changing from a fundraising support organisation to a pressure group “prepared to dig their heels in”.

Last week they launched the Save Our Ellen Badger campaign, starting with a petition on www.change.org. It has so far clocked up 900 signatures.

Fay Kernohan, 84, vice chair of the Friends, said she is devastated by the change of plans. “We were promised a hospital,” she told the Herald. “Now they are concentrating on a medical centre which is a private business. Once they take the beds away they will never bring them back. That’s what happened in Alcester, they tore down the old hospital promising redevelopment but it never happened.”

Sounding emotional Fay continued: “I’ve belonged to the Friends since the early 1980s . I’ve always done everything that I can for the hospital and the patients. I had my son here, it belongs in the community. The original hospital was given to the town as a trust in 1896. The stress of the withdrawal of the hospital plans has made me ill.”

Friends chair Bryan Stoten told the Herald said: “When the single phase was announced in June we were thrilled – it would be £1.75m cheaper to build it that way and 18 months quicker.”

Fay added: “What we were going to get was the vision all of us have shared for 20 years. Now it’s been pulled for financial reasons.”

Meanwhile SWFT says the proposed wellbeing centre and GP surgery should be a cause of celebration. They maintain that many in the town are delighted, and offered the Herald a quote from Shipston resident Mike Wells as evidence of that, who said: “This is a really exciting time for healthcare and wellbeing in Shipston and the surrounding area. The redevelopment of the Ellen Badger site to provide a wider range of services on a single site is a great opportunity and works brilliantly with the increasingly active Stour Health and Wellbeing Partnership which acts as an umbrella organisation for lots of the existing support groups in the town and villages.”

What SWFT failed to mention when offering this testimony is that Mr Wells is a public governor of SWFT and a member of the project team which reversed the single phase development to limit it to its current proposal.

Others in the community see the threatened loss of the hospital differently, as those signing the petition attest.

Sharing her personal story, Friends trustee Caroline Larkin said: “I came on board to Friends because I have first hand experience of the extraordinary care that was offered in the Shipston community. My late husband Jim had cancer and the joined-up treatment between the GP , hospital, district nurse and Shipston Home Nursing was the best healthcare you could experience. He passed away 2007 – he would have been 70 this week. It may seem a strange thing to say but the level of care made his end of his life experience joyful. I want everyone in Shipston to be able to have that.”

For now Friends have desisted in fundraising further for the hospital, something they have been doing for the last two decades as they say they can’t legally give charity money to a commercial venture.

Mr Stoten explained: “We have suspended all fundraising on SWFT’s advice because they can no longer assure us there is a hospital to fundraise for. That’s when we realised – they are not going to build a hospital, and we need to fight that.”

To sign the Save Our Ellen Badger petition click here.

SWFT chief Glen Burley responds

Over the last few years the trust has been working very closely with a number of different stakeholders to plan for this exciting development at Ellen Badger Hospital, which incorporates bringing Shipston Medical Centre on site and will offer a facility to support health and wellbeing. This isn’t something which is available everywhere, so if we can make it happen it really will enhance the healthcare offering for the local population.

The trust decided in the summer to phase the development in exactly the same way we have at Stratford Hospital. Covid has and continues to impact significantly on the delivery of our services. So it is right that all future development projects take into account the learning following the pandemic.

The League of Friends were very supportive of the plans and the original intention was that they would fundraise for the health and wellbeing centre as part of phase one. In recent months they have decided they only feel comfortable fundraising for inpatient facilities. This is disappointing as we have now identified the core funding to commence phase one. In light of this the trust now plans to undertake our own fundraising programme.

There is increasing pressure on NHS capital finances which means we wanted to move forward and put significant investment into the site with the areas we have clarity on. The development has been designed to accommodate a future phase.

It is disappointing that the friends have decided to work against the trust with a campaign to ‘Save our Hospital’ when we were seeking to use national funding for Warwickshire to invest in Shipston and deliver something that not many areas across the country have.

I would therefore encourage everyone to complete the survey Healthwatch are running to gather views. Click here for the survey.

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