HEALTH campaigners have reacted with 'shock and disappointment' to the announcement there is no intention to reopen beds 'temporarily' closed at a community hospital four years ago.

The 12 in-patient beds at Wantage Community Hospital were shut in the summer of 2016 over fears of a possible legionella bacteria outbreak in the outdated hot water system, while other services at the hospital continued.

Dr Nick Broughton, the new chief executive of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said he and the trust 'sincerely apologises' for repeated delays in repair work but though they had now been completed it was still not planning to reopen the beds.

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Speaking at a meeting of Oxfordshire's Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting today, he said: "I am very aware of the deep concern this ongoing issue has caused local residents who are understandably worried it has implications for future viability of the hospital. Something they cherish deeply."

He said he wanted to reassure people the hospital will play an 'essential role' in the trust's plans for community services locally and added since the beds closed in 2016 there had been a 'significant expansion' in other care services allowing people to be cared for in their own home.

Dr Broughton said: "We believe reopening the general in-patient ward at Wantage would not currently be a sustainable plan or indeed the best way to use the limited NHS resources available."

He said instead the trust proposed developing other services at the hospital, including a Rapid Access Care Unit, stressing a commitment to a 'vibrant' hospital in Wantage with a refurbished maternity unit due to be available for deliveries from October 1.

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Wantage Community Hospital. Picture: Jon Lewis

The health boss pointed to approximately 30 community beds being unoccupied across the county, plus 'significant problems' with staffing making reopening difficult.

He stressed there would be a full engagement and consultation period, adding the trust's goal was to see the hospital 'thrive once more'.

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Committee member and Wantage councillor Jenny Hannaby, who has been campaigning on the issue since 2016, reacted with frustration saying: "When I see other community hospitals, no better than ours, no worse, are keeping their beds, I'm wondering why their residents can keep their beds and why Wantage, an expanding town, has to lose theirs."

She said she knew her residents were going to be 'immensely disappointed' when they heard adding: "It is soul-destroying when you don't take on board what the residents of OX12 are saying."

Hundreds of Wantage residents marched through the town in July, 2018, to demand the community hospital be reopened.

Wantage councillor Jane Hanna thanked the trust chief executive for ensuring the work was completed and his 'positive tone and intention' but added the decision over the in-patient beds was a 'massive shock'.