NHS community hospitals: A future resource for communities?

Minehead Hospital artist's sketch of revamp
Image caption NHS Somerset owns Minehead Hospital and has shown support for the plans

NHS community hospitals across the country are gradually being replaced with newer facilities or being shut down.

Their demise has seen a spate of campaign groups pop up driven purely with the aim of preserving the facilities for the community they originally served.

In Somerset, two community hospitals currently lie empty in Minehead and Frome.

The hope in Frome is to turn the old hospital into a free school - and the planning application is due to be handed into the council in the new year.

In Minehead, the hospital is a much-loved landmark in the town centre.

Since its closure, the Minehead Development Trust has been putting in the groundwork to try to buy the building to turn it into a community hub.

Community asset

The group is helping to create a town museum based in the hospital building.

Jenny Lennon-Wood, chairman of the Minehead Development Trust, said: "The asset is now registered for the community interest and Minehead Development Trust will have an opportunity, if the site is put on the market to put together a bid and successfully we hope, acquire the site."

The hope is by registering this as a community asset, it will strengthen the trust's bid to buy the building from NHS Somerset.

But from April 2013, a new company called NHS Property Services Ltd will take over from the NHS to maintain and manage NHS buildings across the country.

"We understand this is effectively an arm of the treasury and if the site does go to that company before we've managed to get a bid together, it will be sold off very rapidly," added Ms Lennon-Wood.

In other parts of the West Country the future of community hospitals is equally uncertain.

Image caption Winchcombe Hospital closed in 2008 and is currently on the market for £1.2m

A campaign has been running in Westbury to prove the original ownership of Westbury Community Hospital, which now lies empty and unused.

According to resident Eddie Bridges, the hospital was built with funding from local families, and should therefore be put back into the ownership of the community.

But this seems unlikely to happen.

A spokesman for NHS Wiltshire said: "Westbury Community Hospital was transferred in 1948 as part of the nationalisation of the health services when the NHS was created.

"The site has been transferred between numerous NHS bodies since 1948 but has remained in the ownership of the NHS."

'Focal point'

The Friends of Westbury Hospital group has said it hoped the building would be used as some kind of benefit to the community - such as an old people's home.

In Gloucestershire the case is more clear cut for Winchcombe Hospital.

Because the site was originally gifted to the primary care trust, a proportion of the assets of the sale will eventually be given to the local community.

Image caption A campaign has been taking place in Westbury to prove the community has ownership rights

But this rests on the site being sold. It has been put on the market but no buyers have yet been found.

Back in Somerset, the hope is for NHS Somerset and Minehead Development Trust to strike a deal before time runs out.

The group will be given a six-month window once the property is put on the market, to put the bid together and secure the necessary funding.

The trust has already managed to raise £12,000 through its Community Pledges Scheme.

In the new year, it also plans to secure Heritage Lottery Funding and other grants.

"We're hoping that some of the social elements will hold sway to some extent. This is a site that the community really loves, they love this building - it's a fantastic focal point for the community hub.

"It's an ideal point to bring in community services and know that the community would come into that point because they're used to being it as a focus for the town.

"I feel very upbeat about it - we are just hoping it will pay off."

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