NEARLY 1,500 people have signed a petition calling on Somerset Partnership not to close Chard Hospital’s inpatient facilities after trust executives revealed it is considering the move.

The petition, signed by 1,497 people, was handed to the Partnership’s chief operating officer Andy Heron and director of governance and corporate development Phil Brice by Chard North county councillor Amanda Broom.

Rumours the inpatient ward is at risk of closure started swirling in April, but at the time the trust denied they were carrying out a consultation, or planning to shut any ward in the hospital.

However Nick Broughton, chief executive of Somerset Partnership, did reveal the £5.1million plan to refurbish the hospital had been scrapped, with a more modest £500,000 programme to be implemented.

Just a few days later, county councillor Amanda Broom met with heads from Somerset Partnership to discuss the potential closure of part of Chard Hospital.

Following a period of consultation with her constituents, Cllr Broom met again with trust heads on July 5, when she handed over the petition.

She said: “While we appreciate there is a need for improved social provision in the area, we also believe there is a genuine need for inpatient beds as well.

“Social isolation is already a significant issue in our area. We understand the squeeze on public transport is isolating more and more residents - social contact is critical in helping people keep healthy.

“In addition, if someone had to travel to South Petherton hospital to visit a close relative, is a three-hour one-way trip acceptable? I do not think it is.”

Dr Broughton said: “There have been no decisions to close Chard Community Hospital’s inpatient ward.

“We are, though, mindful of the ambition of Somerset’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan to move care out of hospitals and into people’s homes.

“We know also from the Care Quality Commission their continuing concerns about the condition of the inpatient ward and the amount of renovation works required, most recently costed at £5.1 million, is not affordable with the continuing pressures on our NHS budget.”

The £5.1million price tag is for the full hospital regeneration project, not just the inpatient ward.

Dr Broughton added: “We are working with clinicians, council executives and the community, including GPs, patient representatives, and members of the voluntary sector, to look at what alternatives are possible to delivering care direct to patients in the comfort of their own home.

"We are also working with these groups to look at the wider issues of transport and social isolation.

“No decisions about what model of care provided out of hospital would be followed, and certainly no decisions about closing the ward, have been made.

“Any plans to shift care into patients’ homes and to close the ward would need to be made in full consultation with the local community.”

Cllr Amanda Broom said: “During our meeting, it was stated that there would be no closure until a credible alternative can be found.

“The continued and increased pressure on the NHS and health care budgets is completely unsustainable. At some stage there has to be an acceptance that things can only be pushed so far.”

Cllr Broom also handed over a list of 23 questions about the hospital’s future from residents to the partnership.