THE Secretary of State for Health has ruled plans not to provide a community hospital at Frenchay should be upheld.

South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny committee unanimously voted to refer the district’s Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) decision to drop plans for an outpatient department and diagnostics facility at Frenchay when the hospital closes in May to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last September.

Councillors were furious that a promised community hospital and 68 rehabilitation beds were abandoned and called on Mr Hunt and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) to hold a full review. On Tuesday, however, the IRP announced the referral was ‘not suitable for full review’.

But in its decision, chairman Lord Ribeiro heavily criticised the process of deciding what to provide at Frenchay, once Southmead becomes the region's single acute facility, which has been ongoing since Southmead was chosen as the preferred site in 2005.

“That residents of the area should feel exasperated by the years of delay, changes to the NHS organisation, pauses in developments and amendments to plans is entirely understandable,” he said. “The overall process to date has shown a marked lack of empathy for patients and the public who have a right to expect better.

“Nevertheless, the panel recognises that circumstances change. While the provision of safe, high quality care is always the first priority, achieving value for money and making the best use of available resources is now a key factor in planning and operating a modern NHS.”

He added: “The debate about the provision of health services for the people of north Bristol and South Gloucestershire has been a long and difficult one.

"The opening of a new acute hospital at Southmead this year will draw a line under one element of the debate but consideration of what services should in future be provided at Frenchay continues.

“Progress to date has suffered from a lack of trust from the public and it is important now that the NHS works hard to regain that trust.”

But Cllr Sarah Pomfret (Con, Bradley Stoke Central & Stoke Lodge), a member of the council’s public health and health scrutiny committee, said she was disappointed by the ruling.

Fellow committee member Cllr Sue Hope (Lib Dem, Cotswold Edge) said: "There needs to be greater public involvement and a clear strategic plan of how that will be achieved. And we need to know what there will be at Frenchay, which is still very unclear."

Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb, a long-term campaigner to save Frenchay Hospital, said: "Once again we see that the promises made to local people at the time the decision was taken to favour Southmead over Frenchay are not being honoured.  

"Even the small number of beds promised for Frenchay are not likely now to materialise for the foreseeable future, if ever. This makes it all the more important that we get more services delivered locally, whether at Yate, Thornbury or Cossham.”

The CCG welcomed the report and said it was planning to provide rehabilitation beds at Frenchay by 2017, with 68 beds being located at Elgar House at Southmead in the interim.

Chairman Dr Jonathan Hayes said plans would also involve providing more outpatient services and diagnostic test services at community locations including Yate's West Gate Centre.

"As local GPs talking to patients every week in our surgeries, we recognise that we need to strengthen our approach to engaging local people, patient and carers so that they can have confidence in decisions about how local health services are provided," he said.

He said a timetable for engaging with local people would be drawn up in the coming weeks.