A PRIVATE firm has been accused of "failing patients" following the fourth closure of a struggling community hospital near Penzance in a year.
It was announced last Friday that Poltair Hospital will be closed for at least three months while the not-for-profit company behind it launches a recruitment drive to plug staffing shortages.
It is the fourth time the Madron-based hospital has closed since Peninsula Community Health was awarded a four and a half year contract to run 14 community hospitals in Cornwall last October.
Although the hospital will retain five skeleton staff to run its outpatient service, the 22 staff who helped run its now-closed ten-bed ward have been moved elsewhere in PCH's service.
Some will work at Edward Hain Community Hospital in St Ives, others at hospitals in Helston, Camborne or Redruth; while its six patients have been discharged or moved elsewhere.
Graham Webster, vice-chairman of Health Initiative Cornwall, said the closure, alongside the loss of 16 other beds across PCH's portfolio, angered him.
His group have written to NHS Cornwall, which commissions the PCH, and to the health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, calling for action.
He added that he believed poor pay deals for staff could be behind recruitment issues – something which the PCH strongly denies.
Mr Webster said: "We are aware of a number of cases recently where staff have been interested in working for PCH but have been offered lesser terms than the going rate for the NHS equivalent posts.
"There was one case where a qualified nurse was £4,000 worse off, (and) because PCH is outside of the NHS she wasn't able to transfer her NHS pension.
"I think it's the main reason (behind the recruitment problems) in all honesty. I am really angry about this because we predicted this would happen and we believe this organisation is failing patients."
A spokesman for the PCH maintained that all staff have been "employed on terms and conditions which are the same as Agenda for Change", the NHS pay structure.
Although last week's announcement indicated Poltair's inpatient unit would be closed for only three months, chief executive Kevin Baber stated he couldn't guarantee it wouldn't be longer.
He said in the meantime PCH would be reviewing its recruitment process.
He said: "There are a number of hospital vacancies and staff off with long-term sickness at Edward Hain Hospital in St Ives and Helston, so the decision was to close Poltair.
"At the moment it's a temporary closure, there are no plans for permanent closure."
St Ives MP Andrew George, a member of the influential Health Select Committee, said local people were concerned about the long-term plans.
"If PCH plans to rationalise, it needs to be transparent about it. But if not, to perpetually have staffing issues suggests management is very poor."
PCH has also announced closures of ten beds in Launceston and six in Falmouth.
Mr Webster added these would influence health service provision elsewhere in Cornwall.
He said: "This will have a knock-on effect on Royal Cornwall Hospital Treliske's ability to discharge patients, that means we'll get bed blocking, because patients can't get out.
"If a patient comes from Penzance, he'll now have to go to Edward Hain, Helston, Camborne or Redruth or the other side of Truro. That's not good for the patient; that's not good for the family."