SECURING the future of Alton Community Hospital was a key driver for the hundreds of people who visited Alton Maltings to share their views on the future provision of health and care services in the area.

Hosted by North Hampshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, the overriding message was clear – people were “passionate” about their services, and in particular the community hospital which, they believe, should be fully utilised.

The frustration is that while they want to be able to access more services locally and use the facility to the full, the health authority doesn’t appear to be doing its bit to facilitate this.

While the bottom line for the NHS appears to be funding, with a significant increase in population expected in Alton and its villages over the next 10 years, townsfolk argue that forcing people into their cars to travel miles to access health and care services does not appear to be environmentally or economically sound, nor in the best interests of the community it serves.

Featuring poster displays, presentations and question-and-answer sessions, last Tuesday’s event marked the launch of a wide-ranging review into health and health-related care services in Alton which is being led by the clinical commissioning group in partnership with a number of other NHS and care organisations.

As the local leader of the NHS, the clinical commissioning group is responsible for planning and funding health services for some 218,000 people in North Hampshire, spending around £230m each year – a significant proportion of it in Alton.

As one of the NHS representatives at the event, the clinical commissioning group’s chief officer, Graham Wallis, said: “We want to make sure that the people of Alton and the surrounding area receive the safest, highest quality health services that we can secure with the funding that is available to us, now and in the future.

“With a growing population, more people living longer with long-term health needs, advances in medical technology and a continuing need to show we are delivering good value for public money, we do face a number of challenges across the area we serve, including Alton.

“We have a completely open mind about how we tackle these challenges, and it is important that whatever solutions we consider, they are developed in partnership with the local people, patients and carers so that any changes we make reflect their needs and wishes as much as possible.”

The event marked the beginning of a programme of public engagement activities led by the clinical commissioning group and its partners, including Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Hampshire County Council, and doctors.

Detailed options for the future of services will be developed through the spring and summer, during which time there will be opportunities for people to have their say.

Mr Wallis added that he had been impressed by the views and suggestions which had been put forward by the 300 people who attended the event.

“It was clear from the questions and discussions that many people are passionate about their local services, particularly Alton Community Hospital, which they see as a great asset,” he said.

“I understand why they feel so strongly about the community hospital and why they want to protect the services it provides for future generations. One of the areas that we will explore in this review is what opportunities there are to increase the number of services that are provided at the hospital.

“We also heard some interesting opinions from people who have first-hand experience of local health services, as well as a number of staff who provide those services. We have already been given some excellent suggestions for how NHS organisations, the local council and voluntary and community groups might work more effectively together to deliver services that are more responsive to patients’ needs.”

He continued: “All of us who are involved in this review have been greatly encouraged by the response to this opening event and I am looking forward to seeing how the continuing involvement of local people will shape our plans as they develop.”

Anyone who has views they would like to share on health services in and around Alton can e-mail the clinical commissioning group at [email protected].