THE people of Wantage are investigating the possibility of buying their hospital to save it from closure.

The League of Friends of Wantage Hospital fear the £1.2m takeover might be the only way to keep the facility open.

League members are planning visits to other community-owned hospitals to see if it might work for Wantage if other attempts to save it fail.

Oxford Health, the NHS trust which owns the site, has already said it would consider a 'financial viable proposal that meets the needs of the local population'.

League chairman Jenny Hannaby, also a town and county councillor for Wantage, said: "I'm not going down without a fight.

"The community built this hospital and I don't want to see it going into private hands.

"The League of Friends is dedicated to saving this hospital and is looking at all options including a community buy-out for the provision of NHS care."

The Friends started looking into the buy-out after the private company which has taken over Oxfordshire's county-wide physiotherapy services announced it would not be operating the service at Wantage Hospital.

The service had been one of just two services still running at Wantage, along with maternity.

That midwife-led unit, the smallest in Oxfordshire, is now the hospital's sole service, and supporters fear the closure of physio makes it less viable in the long-term.

The hospital's 12-bed inpatient ward closed in July 2016 over fears of a potential legionella outbreak in the outdated plumbing system, which still needs to be replaced.

However Oxford Health has said it is not prepared to spend the £300,000 needed to replace the old piping until Oxfordshire sees the results of the ongoing county-wide 'sustainability transformation plan' consultation on the future of NHS services.

The second phase of that consultation will not begin until next year.

People in Wantage fear this plan will recommend the closure of their town hospital, with care moved 'into the community' – local nursing home beds.

The closure would be especially grating for the town as it was local residents who, in the three years up to 1927, raised £12,900 to build the new Wantage hospital – approximately £725,000 in today's money.

Mrs Hannaby stressed, however, that the community buy-out option was the last resort, and the League of Friends was planning to exhaust all other options to persuade the NHS to keep it open first.

Oxford Health chief operation officer, Dominic Hardisty, said in a statement: "We would consider financially viable proposals put to us that meet the needs of the local population, however the trust is only able to sell property when a decision to permanently close or relocate services has been made and we await the outcome of the region-wide consultation into healthcare."

Mr Hardisty also pointed out the current market value of the site – approximately £1.2m – does not take into account all repairs currently needed, including the £300,000 plumbing works.

See page 10 for Wantage MP Ed Vaizey's column about Wantage hospital.