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CALLS for a new hospital or health centre to serve Melksham and the surrounding area, are growing.
It follows news that over 34,000 people a year from the SN12 Melksham postcode visit the Royal United Hospital in Bath for treatment. The information was revealed in a Freedom of Information request by Melksham News.
It found that 30,033 journeys were made for outpatient appointments and 4,346 for A&E in the year from 29th June 2021 to 29th June 2022.
The demands for local health facilities have grown following the large number of homes built in Melksham in recent years and Wiltshire Council’s ‘emerging’ Local Plan which earmarks a further 2,500 homes in the Melksham area in the years up to 2036.
Nick Westbrook, a former chair of the Community Health Council said, “The case for a new hospital in the Melksham area is overwhelming.
“It’s not just about Melksham and the growth of the town, but about the growth of the whole West Wilts area and the strain that’s already on local health facilities. My understanding is that the Dept of Health has recognised the need for a new hospital or health facility in the West Wilts area and had put money on one side this.
“Melksham would be the ideal location because of its excellent links to other local towns – Bradford, Corsham, Chippenham, Trowbridge, Devizes and Westbury.
“Of course, the ideal place would be next to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance base (between Melksham and Semington).
“A lot of patients from this area are also going to Swindon and Salisbury so the need for a new hospital is even more acute, particularly as a number of facilities have been closed at the Chippenham and Trowbridge hospitals.
“And one other issue which is only going to get worse is the growing pressure on the RUH from the east of Bristol. That area is growing and, with Frenchay hospital now closed, it’s quicker for ambulances to travel to the RUH than to Southmead Hospital.
“Bristol is going to continue to expand and the RUH will simply not be up to it.”
Chair of Melksham Without Parish Council John Glover said, “We have supported proposals for increased health facilities both on the Melksham Hospital site and elsewhere within the Melksham Area, including close to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance HQ. Given the increasing size of the population of the wider Melksham area, it makes sense to increase and improve the facilities available.
“Also with the restrictions on the RUH for discharging patients back into the community, subject to staffing, bringing back into use the beds that were previously mothballed in two wards of Melksham hospital would assist the throughput of the RUH.
“Before the Covid pandemic there were plans to fund additional facilities, I think by the Clinical Commissioning Group, but this seems to have died, or hibernated. We would welcome resurrection of those plans.”
Fellow parish councillor, John Doel, said he believes that services provided by Melksham Hospital should be expanded. He said, “I should love to see Melksham Hospital reopen its accident and emergency unit.
“If you are a one-parent family with several children, on low income and no car, you are, putting it bluntly, stuffed if you want to get to Royal United Bath, Chippenham or Trowbridge minor injuries units.
“Even when you get there, you may have a long wait. The next problem is getting home. There is no easy answer. The doctors’ surgeries can only do their best.
“I for one would love to see Melksham Hospital being able to do so much more.”
Despite a well-supported campaign to keep it open, Melksham Hospital’s minor injuries unit was closed down in 2007, along with units in other neighbouring towns.
Local MP Michelle Donelan has already raised the issue about improved local health facilities.
Asked by Melksham News recently about calls for improved services at Melksham Hospital, she said, “We have already raised this with the Minister. I have already spoken with what was the Clinical Commissioning Group to support their bid to get investment into Melksham Hospital, to do just that, so we are waiting on news on that.
“I will be meeting the Health Minister in the next few weeks to discuss this case because I agree and we all know Melksham has expanded so substantially over the last few years and that does increase the level of demand.
“It doesn’t make sense for people to be doing long journeys to Bath or Swindon to get medical treatment that they could get much closer, which is better in terms of time, environment and cost for the user.
“I am massively in favour of this campaign, I am happy to meet with others involved to update them on my progress, I am going to keep pushing on this one.”
A spokesperson for the Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire NHS integrated care board said, “As an Integrated Care System, we are developing our Strategy for the future which we hope to publish in the spring of 23/24. As part of this strategy, we will need to consider how we best meet the needs of our communities including factoring in the expected demographic changes associated with new homes across Wiltshire.
“Our plans will include how and where care is provided, bringing care closer to home, and supporting new and innovative models of care. A critical enabler to the delivery of our plans are the location of services and the associated estates including Melksham Hospital.”