Rothbury-born TV star Alexander Armstrong has criticised the decision to temporarily close the village hospital's inpatient ward and has supported the campaign to save it.
Last month, NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust announced that the 12-bed facility at Rothbury Community Hospital would close with immediate affect for three months. They claimed the decision was due to a fall in patient numbers, but insist that no decision about the permanent future has been taken.
But the closure has prompted anger in the village and today, furious protesters staged a demonstration outside the hospital before a drop-in engagement event at the site. A campaign group and a petition have been set up and opponents fear that the facility will be lost permanently.
And now, the Pointless star, who lives in the south, has thrown has support behind the hospital, saying it is of irreplaceable benefit and finds it hard to understand why anyone would want to shut down the ward.
The 46-year-old said: "I was born in the former Cottage Hospital in the village and always thought how incredibly lucky we were to have such a thing in our village. So I was extremely upset to hear that the new hospital, which I helped my father to open only eight years ago, had suddenly closed the inpatient beds without any explanation.
"It is very hard to understand why anyone would shut down a resource like this that has such enormous and demonstrable community benefit.
"It has been said that this is only a temporary closure, but the way in which it has been done suggests there is little chance of the beds coming back into use.
"I gather that the community has been equally appalled and a strong campaign has been launched to demonstrate their opposition to it. I fully support this campaign.
"The hospital is of irreplaceable benefit to those who are close to the end of their lives and wish to die in Coquetdale near to their loved ones. It is also invaluable for local respite and recuperation.
"I hope that this campaign is successful and if I can be of any help, although at a distance, I will gladly do anything I can."
NHS Northumberland CCG is currently carrying out a formal review to look at the declining bed occupancy levels and low use of inpatient services at the hospital which it says have been evident for a number of years.
The findings of this review will be made available at a public meeting to be held on Thursday, November 17, in Rothbury, the details of which will be confirmed and shared as soon as possible.
Speaking at today's public engagement event, objectors Pat and John Lewis told the Gazette that it was crucial that the inpatient ward reopens, adding that a full-time closure would 'significantly change the nature of living in Rothbury'.
Alexander Armstrong's father, retired doctor Angus, was also present at this afternoon's protest. He said: "People feel really strongly about what's happening now. It seems so crazy that they closed it down, just like that; there is such a demand in the community for the beds they provide at the hospital. Losing the inpatient ward would be desperate."
Rothbury county councillor Steven Bridgett said he was pleased with the number of people who turned out to show their feelings.