Concerned staff have been called in for talks with their bosses over the future of a hospital – as 33,000 people sign a petition to try to keep it open.
NHS leaders have held discussions with workers amid rumours that Leek Moorlands Hospital could shut by September.
That claim has been rejected by NHS officials who say funding is in place until March 2018.
But it has emerged that notices have already been served which allow administrators to change the number of beds and services at the centre.
The developments have angered campaigners who have formed an action group to try to save the Ashbourne Road hospital.
Kieron Murphy, director of operations for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust (SSOTP), which runs the hospital, said, “We have started to talk to staff. This does not mean closure is inevitable, nor does it mean staff will be made redundant. We would like to reassure people that we are working closely with commissioners to make sure no patient safety is compromised.”
The area’s two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have already come under fire for shutting dozens of community hospital beds in Longton, Cheadle and Burslem ahead of its May public consultation.
Accountable officer Marcus Warnes said: “Fewer beds are required for rehabilitation services in community hospitals and we will continue to work with SSOTP to manage capacity to meet demand. We do not wish to cause any undue concern to patients or staff.
“However, in recognition that we now have fewer people requiring beds following discharge and as a consequence empty beds, we have issued notice on the wards to give us the flexibility to do what we may need to do over the next few months and after the public consultation to manage capacity.
“I would like to reassure people that this is part of the NHS standard contractual process. If we wish to change and improve services we are obliged under our contract rules to give notice on the contract for the existing services. Serving notice does not mean we will be stopping services, instead it gives us the flexibility to ensure that services are meeting patients’ needs. The cost of providing all services at Leek Hospital is in the contract with SSOTP for 2017/18.”
Save Leek Moorlands Hospital Action Group has been set up as a bid has been made to register the site as a community asset.
Action group founder Pam Wood: “Staff have been told that the beds will not be funded from September – but the CCGs have told me the funding of the beds will continue into the next financial year.
“The action group has been set up to make people aware that we are in danger of losing all services at Leek Hospital and we want to fight these plans ahead of the consultation.”
The start of the CCGs’ 12-week consultation has been delayed until May 8. But the delay means 64 beds at Bradwell Hospital – which are due to close in March – will already be shut by the time the review starts. It comes as all beds have been closed at Longton Cottage Hospital and Cheadle Hospital and one ward has been mothballed at Burslem’s Haywood Hospital.
North Staffordshire Healthwatch co-ordinator Ian Syme: “Marcus Warnes is doing a lot of spin. The proposal to shut community hospital beds has not got the public’s confidence.
“In May, the reality is that 169 community hospital beds will have already have been shut without any consultation.
“This whole process is in disrepute and disarray. The CCGs have done this before all forms of consultation and I’m appalled.”