A HOSPITAL that has fought several threats of closure throughout its 100-year history has another major battle on its hands.

NHS Hampshire has announced that Hampshire Community Health Care will no longer provide nursing care at the community-owned Odiham Cottage Hospital.

The current contract will end on March 31 2011.

NHS Hampshire said it had decided to end the contract because of ‘substantial difficulties’ in recruiting trained nurses.

It said there had been a ‘heavy reliance’ on agency staff but the location of the hospital site and it not being on a public transport route had often meant agencies were unable to supply nurses.

The news has rocked the community.

“We are shocked and saddened by the announcement coming so soon after the public celebration of the hospital’s centenary,” said Ginny East, secretary to the trustees of Odiham Cottage Hospital.

“Clearly this is devastating news for Odiham and the other local communities served by the hospital.

“The trustees of Odiham Cottage Hospital have already called for an urgent meeting with NHS Hampshire to jointly identify and appoint an alternative provider of nursing care services. We intend to seek an outcome which is acceptable to all parties, especially the community which has loyally supported its hospital over recent years.”

Mrs East said, ironically, recent appointments meant that staffing at the hospital was better placed than for many months.

She added the trustees of Odiham Cottage Hospital Charitable Trust have called for an immediate meeting with senior management of NHS Hampshire to jointly identify an alternate provider of nursing services and have engaged with local GPs to determine a way forward.

Mrs East said: “While this announcement does not in itself mean the closure of the hospital, we understand that it has had a very unsettling effect on patients, staff and the community who have supported their hospital over so many years.

“The trustees are determined to find a way forward that is acceptable to all parties and preserves the hospital as provider of healthcare services to its community.”

NHS Hampshire said it was important to acknowledge the hard work of Hampshire Community Health Care in trying to maintain the service for as long as possible in the face of real difficulties.

“As the commissioner for health services in this county, NHS Hampshire is hoping to work very closely with the Cottage Hospital Trust to determine the future use of the site, as well as considering how best to deliver health services to local people who will need bed-based care, either shortly or in the future,” said spokesman Mel McKeown.

“We will be making sure that local people have many chances to give us their ideas about how best we can meet the health needs of local people.

“We will also be working closely with our partners at Hampshire County Council and our GP partners.”

Odiham Cottage Hospital has gone from strength to strength since residents helped stop NHS plans to close the much loved building in 1996.

More than 1,200 people joined a demonstration march through the historic town and Odiham Cottage Hospital Redevelopment Trust (OCHRE) was set up. On June 30, 1998, after exactly 50 years of NHS ownership, the hospital was bought for £245,000 and returned to the community.

It was refurbished and modernised and, thanks to the generosity of the community, several local charitable trusts and local parish councils, about £400,000 was raised to complete the work.

In November 1999, Odiham Cottage Hospital reopened its doors and welcomed back its patients.

The 12-bed hospital takes patients from GP surgeries in Hartley Wintney, Hook and Odiham.