STRUCTURE: Councillors in South Gloucestershire have voted to refer plans to axe outpatient and diagnostic services at a local site to the health secretary.

Almost all acute healthcare is due to cease at Frenchay Hospital when North Bristol Trust consolidates the bulk of its services in a new private finance initiative hospital at its Southmead location next year.

In the face of public opposition back in 2005 commissioners committed to maintain a community hospital with 68 beds on the Frenchay site. However, South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group has reviewed these plans and decided diagnostic and outpatient services are not required. It is also reluctant to be tied to a fixed number of beds.

At a meeting late last month, South Gloucestershire Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee voted to refer the decision to Jeremy Hunt.

The committee also referred the CCG to the health secretary for its decision to move the 68 beds from Frenchay to Southmead on an interim basis before permanent plans are finalised. The trust and commissioners argue it would cost an additional £2.4m a year to locate the beds at Frenchay - however, the committee fears once they have gone they will not return.

Ben Bennett, South West Commissioning Support Unit’s programme director for strategy and development, said commissioners were disappointed by the referral but unsurprised.

He said the CCG had reviewed the plans over the past year and found there was enough additional capacity at the nearby Cossham and Yate community hospitals where the trust also provides outpatients and diagnostics services.

“This is not a snap decision, it is clinically led. It is a really good example of a new CCG being quite brave and saying we have got to look at this systematically,” he said.

Analysis of rehabilitation patients found a large proportion could be treated at home and so the CCG is seeking a flexible bed model.

North Bristol launched a tender for a development partner to build a new health and care centre and a healthcare partner to deliver nursing home beds when it led the project in 2011. It was anticipated the NHS could use the nursing home beds when required.

Mr Bennett said this was still a potential solution but the CCG could not find the additional £3m required. A decision from the health secretary is expected to take at least three months.