Retired nurse risks her life savings to keep wards open

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A former nurse has risked her life savings by launching a High Court action in an attempt to overturn the closure of two wards at the founding NHS hospital.

Pat Morris, 65, is funding the legal case herself and may be ruined financially if she loses.

Mrs Morris is challenging a decision by the Trafford Healthcare NHS Trust in to close two rehabilitation wards for the elderly at the Altrincham General Hospital near Manchester.

The hospital is considered to be the first in the National Health Service. It was opened on 5 July 1948 - the day the NHS came into being - by Aneurin Bevan, the health minister and architect of the service. But the trust has a £9m deficit and staffing crisis. In March, managers decided to close two wards used to care for 26 in-patients.

They claimed that the patients had become increasingly elderly and dependent, and a shortage of doctors as well as fire hazards had meant that the wards had to be closed on safety grounds. Mrs Morris has run a long campaign against cuts at Altrincham since it was first threatened with closure seven years ago.

She has sunk £80,000 of her own savings into a judicial review of the decision to close the wards. She was refused legal aid because her husband has a pension, even though she only has a state pension of £34 a week.

If the pensioner loses the judicial review, she will be liable for the costs of the trust and the court, but her barrister, Anthony Eyers, is acting for her on a pro bono basis. If Ms Morris wins, the trust will be forced to reopen the wards.

At the High Court yesterday, Mr Eyers said that the trust had acted unlawfully in failing to consult the public about the closure of the wards properly. He told the court: "It would open the door for other trusts to act first and ask questions later."

Parishil Patel, for the trust, said he accepted the trust had failed to consult correctly over the closure but the trust was prepared now to start a series of meetings with the public. He said the decision had been taken originally because of fears over clinical safety at the wards, but the wards were also a serious fire risk.

A decision from Mr Justice Hodge is expected next week.