HEALTH chiefs have unveiled plans to reopen a "much-loved" Hampshire hospital that has stood idle for 18 months.

The Fenwick Hospital, Lyndhurst, will become a centre for people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and respiratory trouble.

NHS bosses are also exploring the possibility of reopening beds at the site and providing what they describe as "end-of-life" services.

New Forest Primary Care Trust says support services for diabetics are likely to be launched in just two months' time.

George Dibben, chairman of the League of Friends, said: "We're moving along in an exciting way towards reopening the Fenwick in September.

"We are also very keen to progress discussions that we've been having with the trust about the development of end-of-life services. We're pleased the trust is committed to start the planning work for both diabetic and palliative care at the Fenwick."

Lyndhurst GP Dr David Balfour said: "Plans to relaunch the Fenwick will go a long way in addressing the health and social care needs of patients with longer-term or more complex conditions.

"As part of our discussions we will be exploring the development of end-of-life services there.

"Providing beds at the hospital for this purpose might be the best way to do this and has certainly not been ruled out."

New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, head of the Save Our Community Hospitals action group, said he was cautiously optimistic.

"This is an extremely encouraging development," said Dr Lewis. "The Fenwick is going to be reopened, not removed from the NHS and sold-off, and if it does provide palliative and end-of-life services there will be some in-patient beds."

Axed All 20 beds at the Fenwick were axed in January last year in a move that caused widespread anger and dismay.

Three months later the trust unveiled proposals to close some or all of the beds at the Fenwick and four other community hospitals in Hythe, Fordingbridge, Milford-on-Sea and Romsey.

The move sparked a Daily Echo-backed campaign to save the facilities.

About 2,000 protesters attended a protest rally in Lyndhurst and more than 40,000 people signed at petition. The campaign ended in victory last October, when the trust announced that none of the hospitals would close.