A spokesman said: “If it’s true that this step has been taken because of staffing level problems, it’s absolutely astonishing that it should be done in such a sudden and secretive way, with no hint
or warning to anyone.
“Our meetings are attended by senior health officials and there hasn’t been the slightest suggestion of a problem at Hythe.
“Unless something huge has suddenly happened, the only conclusion one can reach is that they’ve acted in an underhanded way in the middle of an election campaign, when everyone’s attention is
distracted. I do hope I’m wrong about this.”
The HCHC says the ban on new admissions is only temporary.
However, the decision has sparked fears for the hospital’s future following previous staff shortages and the consequent loss of key facilities on the site.
Last night Hythe councillors hit out at what they described as “cuts by stealth”.
County councillor Brian Dash said: “First we lost the minor injuries unit, then they took away the maternity unit and now they’re fiddling with the main hospital. It’s got to stop.”
Dave Smith, chairman of Hythe and Parish Council, was also scathing.
He said: “The hospital is Hythe and Dibden’s memorial to people killed in the two world wars and is highly valued by the local community. I hope the situation is resolved very quickly.”
HCHC said it had spent 18 months attempting to tackle a growing staff shortage at the complex.
Beds at the hospital will be closed when the eight existing patients are well enough to go home. People requiring rehabilitation will be taken to Lymington New Forest Hospital and Fordingbridge Hospital.
Asked why it was not possible to transfer nurses from other hospitals, the spokesman said there was no spare capacity.
She added: “We can deploy agency staff but they would not be employees of HCHC and may not have the right level of understanding of our policies, procedures and standards.”
Hythe Hospital in Beaulieu Road has 16 beds for elderly patients needing to undergo rehabilitation before returning home.
However, during the last few months four of those beds have remained closed due to staff shortages.
The medical centre next to the hospital, which is part of the same complex, is also used for outpatient clinics such as diabetes and rheumatology.
The Daily Echo understands these clinics will continue as normal for at least the next few months while the hospital is closed.
Hythe Hospital opened in 1922 as a memorial to local men killed in the First World War.
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