A RESCUE package that should secure Hinchingbrooke Hospital's future for the next 20 or 30 years was unanimously agreed by Cambridgeshire NHS chiefs last week.

Senior members of the county's primary care trust were at pains to stress that the move was not a short-term fix.

A RESCUE package that should secure Hinchingbrooke Hospital's future for the next 20 or 30 years was unanimously agreed by Cambridgeshire NHS chiefs last week.

Senior members of the county's primary care trust were at pains to stress that the move was not a short-term fix. Even though management arrangements will change in two years' time when the hospital's board is disbanded, the formerly cash-strapped hospital will not have to go through the same pain again then, hospital chief executive Mark Millar said.

PCT chairman Maureen Donnelly believes the arrangements hammered out at Hinchingbrooke over six painful months could provide a blueprint for saving other small district general hospitals.

The package involves using the hospital only for proper hospital services and transferring things that no longer need to be done there to health centres, surgeries and even patients' own homes.

In some cases, the procedures will be performed by the same nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals - but they will be paid for directly by the PCT at lower cost.

The almost-take-it-or-leave-it package of measures was the only one of four options considered by the trust that was financially viable, medically safe and locally accessible. And it was supported overwhelmingly by the public. A total of 55,000 people - half the adults in Huntingdonshire - signed a Parliamentary petition in support of saving Hinchingbrooke.

The trust also considered simply reducing the caseload by 20 per cent without changing the way it was delivered or transferring huge chunks of work to Cambridge, Peterborough, which would have downgraded Hinchingbrooke to community or cottage hospital status.

The preferred option has preserved A&E, emergency and elective surgery, general medicine, cancer treatment, maternity and a raft of other services. Maternity will actually be expanded, with mums from new settlements such as Cambourne and Northstowe being encouraged to have their babies at Hinchingbrooke.

All Hinchingbrooke will lose in the shake-up is work that does not need to be done there, rare operations to correct curvature of the spine, and 200 of the 2,000 jobs, many of which are part-time.

The hospital is actually recruiting new people. Many of the 200 jobs have already gone and, although some more jobs will be technically redundant, it is unlikely any individual employee will be made to go. The number of people retiring, moving elsewhere in the NHS or leaving for family reasons will far exceed the 200 reduction in numbers over the next two years.

But there has been much disinformation on the issue - mainly from people connected with some of the trade unions involved.

It is this group that has tried to persuade the public that the disappearance of the board in April 2009 to save £1million-a-year in management costs meant that the hospital would close on that date. The group has produced not a shred of evidence to support that contention, and indeed, there is none to be produced.

On the contrary, the fact is that the very people who work there have helped to pull this rabbit out of the hat by agreeing to change the way they work.

Chief executive Mark Millar was scornful of those who claimed the finite life of the Hinchingbrooke board - and his job - would coincide with the hospitals' closure. "There's a world of difference between healthcare on the Hinchingbrooke site and the board of Hinchingbrooke Hospital. If there's less work (as there will be), there's a management cost overhead of having a separate board of the same size.