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Members of Shaftesbury Town Council have agreed to ‘kick-start’ the process of getting the community together to decide the best way forward for Shaftesbury’s Westminster Memorial Hospital following the decision to save the in-patient beds for the time being.

Chairman of the council’s hospital working group Councillor Anthony Austin agreed at a meeting of the council’s general management committee last week to continue in a coordinating role to identify people and organisations – so-called ‘stakeholders’ – interested in taking up Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group’s challenge to save the beds.

Dorset CCG agreed last month to keep the beds at Shaftesbury hospital on condition that local people came up with a solution approved by the CCG that produces ‘a sustainable model for future services based on the health and care needs of the locality.’

The changes to the NHS in Dorset – the result of a three-year consultation costing £3 million – have to be fully implemented within five years. CCG leaders have already made it clear that if the local community fails to come up with a solution acceptable to the CCG within the next year or two it is likely the beds will go, followed by the hospital.

That means it will go back to the CCG’s preferred option which is a completely new day care-only ‘hub’ facility without beds in a new location in either Gillingham or Shaftesbury.

Cllr Austin’s offer to coordinate the new group came after town councillors voted to disband the hospital working group with immediate effect. But he said he would do it for the short term only to ‘help kick start the process’ that he considered ‘urgent’.

He said his first step would be to organise a meeting of as many key stakeholders as possible in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset. The involvement of people and organisations in south west Wiltshire and south east Somerset is seen as vital by the CCG to the success of future health provision in the area, including its funding.

The total estimated cost of a new building with modern facilities is £20 million.

Despite a consensus seeming to be emerging among supporters of Shaftesbury hospital that they are prepared to see the hospital close as long as a viable alternative with beds is opened elsewhere in the immediate area first, Councillor Austin told Gillingham News his first priority will be to see if the present building can be made to work.

‘It’s very important to establish whether Westminster Memorial Hospital has a future as there are clearly those who believe it has,’ said Councillor Austin. ‘I would hope that the first step would be to evaluate whether this important part of Shaftesbury’s heritage can remain functioning as it was originally intended.’
• The hospital has won the top award of £4,000 from Tesco’s ‘bags of help’ scheme for a patients’ rehabilitation garden with a scented flowers and herb garden, butterfly walk and mini-orchard.

What would you like to see happen – keep the existing building or have a new purpose-built medical centre? You can leave your comment below.

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