A HOSPITAL once gifted to the residents of a town has been bought back off the NHS in a drive to save it for community use.

Two years after NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group decided the Lambert Memorial Hospital in Thirsk would close permanently, Hambleton District Council has announced it has exchanged heads of terms with NHS Property Services.

The deal to sell the community hospital building for a below market rate price has been struck following 11 months of work by the council’s leader, Councillor Mark Robson, Thirsk MP Kevin Hollinrake and the intervention of two ministers.

The council says a legal agreement covering “commercial sensitivity” is preventing it from disclosing how much public money has been spent on buying the Victorian premises.

However, it is understood the site will cost in the region of £350,000.

The purchase comes  more than three years after South Tees NHS Trust announced it would temporarily close the 14-bed ward at the hospital “to address patient safety concerns due to staffing pressures”.

The ward, which provided general rehabilitation, assessment of patients’ present and future care needs, diagnostics, drug initiation and administration, pain control and palliative care, had been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and was one of the most prized community assets in the town.

An apparent refusal by NHS bosses to find a future use for the 126-year-old building which had provided palliative car to generations of residents, sparked widespread anger and saw the NHS denying it was cutting costs

Politicians expressed “bitter disappointment” earlier this year after being told NHS Property Services had chosen to sell the site to the highest bidder.

While the NHS had been given the hospital in the post-war years, in April NHS Property Services said it had been “unable to accept offers below market value as this would not be in the interests of achieving the best value for the NHS”.

In June, the council was forced to dismiss claims it had “jumped the gun” by announcing it had saved the former hospital premises for community use when NHS Property Services said it had yet to make a final decision.

Speaking last night, Cllr Robson said NHS Property Services had reversed it decision and the authority was now awaiting legal documents to complete the deal.

He said he wanted to listen to residents’ views about the possible future uses of the building in Chapel Street.

He said: “We have purchased the building as I set out to do for community use, which has got to be good news.

“I fully intend to hold an initial public meeting once we have signed the documentation when the ten per cent deposit has been paid.

“It has taken 11 months of work to get to this stage - it hasn’t been for the want of trying - we can only go at the speed of NHS Property Services.”

Cllr Robson said while he appreciated how popular the hospital had been, retaining it for hospital use was not an option.