WESTBURY Town Council has decided it will not fight for the town’s ownership of Westbury Hospital.
It says that, with many options already explored, and the prospect of heavy legal costs in a fight, it is the “time to close the matter”.
The NHS is due to sell off the hospital site once the new White Horse Health Centre in Leigh Park is open. But some residents believe that the land and hospital was gifted to the town before the NHS was even created, and therefore it should remain under the town’s ownership.
A key question, therefore, is whether Westbury could prove a right to ownership of the hospital.
As agreed by the town council in July, two councillors met with solicitors Pinniger, Finch & Co to discuss the town’s options. However, having reported back to a meeting of the town council last week, it was resolved that the council will not take any further action.
Solicitors Pinniger Finch & Co report that, while the 1946 NHS Act nationalised hospitals, a safeguard put in a 2006 Act states that a property should be used so far as practicable for the purposes of a hospital. They say that if it was established that is was not practicable then there is some uncertainty as to what the Secretary of State may use the property for. It is on these issues that expert opinion from a barrister would be needed, with estimates of an initial visit at over £1,000.
In a statement issued last week, the town council say, “It clearly states in the official copy of the Register of Title that the Title absolute, dated 09. 03. 2007 that the proprietor is Wiltshire Primary Care Trust.
“The PCT [Primary Care Trust] have been contacted requesting what they intend to do with the site but have not responded. If it was established that it is not practicable for the hospital to be kept then there is some uncertainty as to what the Secretary of State may use the property for.
“To resolve these issues it could incur considerable legal costs which may not result in a favourable conclusion and we are not aware of any other council successfully challenging the 1946 NHS Act in similar circumstances.
“While the town council appreciated that the hospital and the land would be of great benefit to the community, it now felt that after pursuing this issue for a number of years and exploring as many possibilities as it can to keep the hospital for the people of Westbury, that now is the time to close the matter.
“However if anyone knows of any further information about this site that is relevant and that might change this situation, the council would look at the matter again.”
Eddie Bridges, the local resident who bought the case of the hospital to the town council, says he is disappointed in the town council’s decision but will continue the fight. “I would have expected a bit more fight out of the town council, but I’ll go at it alone,” he said. “I have written to Andrew Murrison, I’m hoping he’ll make time for me to see him and take it from there.
“I’m looking at it from the townspeople’s point of view, it’s got to be worth millions of pounds, that could do a lot for Westbury. The onus is on the PCT now to give us a date that they took over ownership, who signed the contract on behalf of Westbury because if they hadn’t held a referendum then that was outside the law, that’s my interpretation.”
A statement from NHS Wiltshire on the ‘Disposal of Westbury Hospital’ says, “The process to declare Westbury Community Hospital site ‘surplus to the functional needs of the Trust’ followed the consultation period undertaken during the Pathway for Change process and the Reforming Community Care consultation which took place in 2007.
“On completion of White Horse Health Centre, the majority of the services will be transferred to the new facility with some services temporarily remaining in place at Westbury Hospital.
“In line with the Department of Health guidelines, as laid out in Estatecode (NHS guidance on land and property) and the NHS Finance (Capital Accounting) Manual, there is a requirement of the Trust to dispose of land and building no longer needed for operational requirements.
“Wiltshire PCT will report any contract for the sale or lease of Westbury Hospital site as a matter of public record in the usual way, which is through the Register of Sealings in its public Board Meetings.”