RESIDENTS showed they were willing to battle to save Chesham Community Hospital after they swamped a meeting to debate its future.

People had to be turned away from the crisis meeting at Chesham Town Hall as an estimated 400 residents squeezed in to quiz the chief executive proposing to close the hospital resulting in the loss of 21 beds from the town.

Residents, many of them elderly, stood for nearly three hours on Wednesday evening, to listen Bart Johnson, of the Chiltern and South Bucks Primary Care Trust, argue the case for closing the care facility in Hospital Hill.

Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan said if the people of Chesham wanted the hospital it should stay.

The MP also issued a battle-cry saying she was ready to fight to keep a crucial service in the town.

Addressing the meeting, she said: "I want the best medical care we can possibly get. If that means a fight I shall not shirk from it.

"We are getting less money from the government for our health services which is taking money away from our area."

"If my community want to keep Chesham Hospital, then they must be allowed to keep it."

To compensate for the loss of beds at the hospital, Mr Johnson said the PCT could take over the Misbourne Ward, purpose built for elderly people, at Amersham Hospital.

But Mrs Gillan added: "We will not be happy as a community having to traipse down to Amersham and lose something we believe is valuable to the community."

Mr Johnson said the PCT had been forced to consider closures because of a combined £15 million debt with Buckinghamshire Hospital NHS Trust. While the Misbourne ward was a better facility for clinical reasons.

The PCT chief also blamed a reduction in Government funding.

He said: "The problem we have are from finances.

"The funding we receive is 18 per cent less than the national average."

Mr Johnson was also questioned about the possible loss of beds for the elderly at Amersham Hospital and Chesham Hospital.

In response he said the trust was taking steps to reduce bed blocking which would release 30 to 60 beds.

A new health centre built at Berkhampstead Road with "enhanced services" would also reduce the amount of patients requiring a hospital stay.

The meeting was called by Chesham GP Alan Morris, of the Aureole House Surgery, in Market Square, who presented a case to keep the hospital.

Dr Morris said he was pleased with the meeting but wasn't swayed by Mr Johnson's arguments.

He said: "It was a successful meeting but I am still not convinced the hospital should be closed.

"A new centre would contribute more services for people in their old age and increase the need for a hospital close by for them and their relatives."

He added that if the hospital closed it wouldn't be the chief executive that would suffer, but the elderely people.

He said: "If it is closed the chief executive will move on and the older people will remain without a hospital."