HARD-hitting questions are being asked as to why an empty hospital ward in Wantage is not being used to ease the pressure on healthcare services in the coronavirus pandemic.

Oxfordshire county councillors Jane Hanna and Jenny Hannaby requested a local public health view as to why the 12-bed unit at Wantage Community Hospital have not reopened to help the NHS.

This was done in a letter sent to Stuart Bell – CEO of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trustt which runs the facility, and the leader of the county council Ian Hudspeth.

This comes after the Office of National Statistics revealed that the Vale of White Horse has the highest Covid-19 mortality across Oxfordshire.

The two county councillors who, alongside Wantage residents, have been at the forefront of the battle to reopen the unit, sent the letter because of the 'lack of an open democratic public forum to engage with decision makers on behalf of the local community'.

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Liberal Democrat councillor Ms Hanna added: "There are many issues our community faces.

"This correspondence outside the normal democratic system is all we have right now as councillors to perform our role in the public interest."

The 12 in-patient beds at Wantage Community Hospital were 'temporarily' shut in the summer of 2016 over fears of a possible legionella bacteria outbreak in the outdated hot water system, while other services at the hospital have continued.

The facility was used to help people bridge the gap between emergency or acute inpatient care at a big hospital like the John Radcliffe, and returning home.

In April the two Wantage and Grove councillors first wrote to Mr Bell to urge him to consider reopening the ward.

However, Mr Bell's response was marked 'private and confidential', so the pair could not disclose the information.

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In the second letter Ms Hanna and Ms Hannaby specified that 'in the spirit of resuming openness and transparency' his reply should be 'opened' to keep the community well-informed.

In a statement, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford Health confirmed there are no plans to reopen the unit and that Mr Bell will be responding to the authors of the letter 'in due course'.

The statement said: "During the current pandemic the availability of hospital beds is carefully planned in line with national modelling and kept under constant review.

"That dictates where changes need to be adopted to meet evolving requirements, in particular how to ensure that the need for additional critical care capacity is met.

"Local services in Oxfordshire have worked closely and effectively together, to ensure the maximum availability of acute care beds, and as the pandemic unfolds, there has not been a requirement identified to open additional community hospital inpatient sites."