CHARD Hospital has been announced as one of two community hospitals set to close beds for “safety” reasons.

Somerset Partnership has revealed that Chard Community Hospital and Shepton Mallet Community Hospital are both closing their inpatient beds, and are not expecting to reopen them until around March 2018.

In a statement, Dr Nick Broughton, the chief executive of the partnership said: “Whilst we very much regret having to take this temporary action on the grounds of patient safety, we are anxious to avoid sudden closures.

"We will therefore be seeking to temporarily close our inpatient beds at Chard Community Hospital and Shepton Mallet Community Hospitals.

“I know this decision will cause concern to residents of Chard and Shepton Mallet and surrounding villages. I want to meet with the local public to explain this is a decision made in the best interests of patient safety and sustainable levels of staffing and to listen to their views about what we are doing.

“The decisions announced today will go some way to addressing these severe shortages of nurses by concentrating our staff onto fewer sites within larger teams.

Dr Broughton added that it is “difficult to envisage re-opening these beds before March 2018.”

Cllr Amanda Broom, county councillor for Chard North, has addressed the floor at today’s scrutiny meeting.

In July Cllr Broom handed a 1,500-strong petition to SomPar calling for pledges that no closures would be made without a full public consultation

She said: “I find it extremely disappointing that only a matter of weeks ago I spoke at the Scrutiny meeting, Somerset County Council.

“I raised three key points, and received assurances from Somerset Partnership that these would be taken into consideration before any decision was made. “

“These points were: one, that Chard residents were concerned and believed the in-patient beds would close without the chance for a full public consultation. I was assured that one would happen – yet it has not, why not?

“Two, I raised the extremely poor public transport network that Chard, and surrounding villages suffer with – I was assured that “detailed consideration” to any alternative would be provided. Where is this report?

“Three, I asked about assurances for those who are living in fear of social isolation whilst trying to recuperate, I was assured that consideration into the suitability of voluntary sectors assisting would be taken into account. Has this been done?

“Despite receiving assurances from SomPar that the decision to close Chard Hospital inpatient beds had not already been made, I find this very difficult to believe.

“I hope the decision to permanently close the wards is not already a done deal, and I challenge SomPar to provide their criteria and fact based evidence for the basis of their decision making.

“To date, almost 2,000 people have put pen to paper to show their disapproval of this decision which is just another in the list of unsustainable cuts to our valued public services.

“This closure is ill thought out, badly timed and will not provide the solutions that our residents and the amazing staff at Chard Hospital need.

“I understand staff do not yet know where they will be expected to work. I assume our transport network, which again is subject to cuts, has been checked for viability?

“Some inpatients have family visitors who are unable to drive – how will they now visit their relatives? How will those separated now cope & how will we stop this causing degeneration of health and social isolation?

“I ask that these questions are answered and that Somerset County Council supports this, by requesting regular monthly updates from SomPar to be provided at Scrutiny.

“Once these services are gone from our communities, I fear, they will be gone for good and never replaced. I understand the issues within the NHS, but we have to stand up against austerity – our communities have no more to give.”

James Heappey, MP for Wells, has reacted to the closure of beds at Shepton Mallet.

He said: “The temporary closure of beds at Shepton Mallet Community Hospital is very disappointing.

“I have spoken to the chief executive of Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and understand the staffing challenges. I look forward to these being resolved as quickly as possible over the next few months.

“I will be raising this issue with Ministers urgently and will meet with the League of Friends and Save Our Hospital Beds campaign group.

“I will also be seeking assurances from Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and SOMPAR about the planned redevelopment of Shepton Mallet Community Hospital and would like to know this temporary setback in no way affects these plans.

“A temporary closure is unfortunate but anything permanent will not be tolerated and the focus must now be on making sure all the beds are back available and the hospital is sufficiently staffed as soon as possible.”