PATIENTS will be seen more quickly and in a better environment after Hinchingbrooke Hospital has cut more than £13million a year from its costs, managers claim. Outpatients will be seen in the new £22million treatment centre, where 80 per cent of operatio

PATIENTS will be seen more quickly and in a better environment after Hinchingbrooke Hospital has cut more than £13million a year from its costs, managers claim.

Outpatients will be seen in the new £22million treatment centre, where 80 per cent of operations will continue to be carried out, and cancer treatment could move there from the Woodlands Centre.

The future of the Woodlands cancer care centre, funded by public subscription, is still undecided.

Meanwhile, longer-term medical and surgical cases will be treated in six refurbished 30-bed wards with en suite facilities, if funding allows, says chief executive Mark Millar.

That would enable what they call "the back of the hospital" to be sold off. This is about a third of the 15-hectare site, currently housing three wards, mostly for elderly patients, a rehabilitation centre and the ambulance depot.

Surgery would be streamlined by extending theatre opening times by 50 per cent, allowing two theatres to be closed. Surgeons would have access from 8am to 6.30pm, instead of two three-and-a-half-hour morning and afternoon sessions.

Hinchingbrooke services could be concentrated in just two buildings - the treatment centre and the main block - plus the new children's centre, operated by Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust (PCT).

Adult mental health services could be moved from the present Hawthorn ward at the back into ground floor accommodation near the short-stay car park at the front.

Mr Millar's proposals would see the number of general and acute beds reduced from 236 to 180 and possibly even further in due course. However, he says a shorter stay in hospital means fewer beds are needed.

The hospital, with an £80million annual budget, expects to admit 32,000 patients this year and to see 124,000 as outpatients and 37,000 in accident and emergency, despite being one of the country's smallest district hospitals.

The package of changes Mr Millar proposes could become a blueprint for keeping other threatened hospitals open.

Mr Millar acknowledges there will be some impact on staff. He says compulsory redundancy is extremely unlikely, except for the remote possibility in a tiny number of highly-specialised cases.

"As long as they are prepared to be flexible, anyone currently employed by the trust who wants to continue, will be able to," he said.

Overall about 200 of the 2,000 posts - the equivalent of nearly 1,300 full-time people - will disappear over the next two years, in most cases by not replacing people who leave. Some jobs have gone already, but Hinchingbrooke is also recruiting, with four consultants being offered jobs in the past two weeks.

Maternity services are being beefed up by encouraging women from Cambourne to have their babies in Huntingdon. The plan is for the PCT to make up the deficit up to £1.1million for three years until the number of births makes the unit financially viable.

Huntingdon's MP, Jonathan Djanogly, one of the organisers of a petition signed by more than 50,000 people, half the adult residents of Huntingdonshire, said: "A year ago we were facing the terrible possibility of closure. The future of the hospital has been secured and its services retained. This includes the saving of A&E and maternity.

"For the thousands of local residents who signed petitions, went on rallies and signed letters in support of their local hospital, we can now say it was worth it."

Many of the changes could be in place as early as February next year.

* NON-EMERGENCY patients being taken by the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) to and from Hinchingbrooke Hospital have given the service a huge vote of confidence.

Ambulance crews in the area were given glowing praise in the first patient satisfaction survey this year focused on an individual hospital.

All the 53 patients who returned the survey said they were very satisfied or satisfied. One patient said the "service and staff are to be congratulated on their good, kind and cheerful service." Another suggested the service could not be improved.