THE leader of the Liberal Democrats has praised the staff at Winchester’s hospital after a visit to the city last week.

Sir Vince Cable paid a visit to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and charity Home-Start Winchester.

Mr Cable met with chief executive Alex Whitfield and Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT) chairman Steve Erskine during a tour of the emergency department; Burrell House, which will soon become Winchester Hospice; and the Colebrook Day Unit.

He said: “It has been a very informative, very enjoyable and very encouraging visit.

“We always hear about the health service being under pressure but everywhere I’ve been here I’ve seen very high morale, high achievement and pride in the hospital, which is what you want to hear.”

While in the emergency department, Mr Cable spoke to staff about the building work that is under way to create space for additional rapid assessment and treatment areas, as well as a paediatric assessment unit.

He then moved on to Burrell House, where he was told about plans for a hospice in the unused building.

As previously reported, a campaign is currently under way to raise the £3million needed to refurbish Burrell House and turn it into a hospice containing 10 inpatient beds with ensuite facilities, as well as space for day therapy services and outpatient facilities.

Alex Whitfield, chief executive, said: “I’d like to thank Vince for taking time out of his busy schedule to visit Winchester hospital.

“We are incredibly excited about the improvements that are taking place in our emergency department and the plans for Winchester Hospice, which will be a fantastic addition to the healthcare facilities available in the city.”

Mr Cable then visited Home-Start Winchester, where he was accompanied by Lib Dem city councillor Lynda Murphy.

Among those he met were Mark and Racheal, who spoke frankly about how the charity had made a difference to both their lives and that of their five-year-old son Henry.

Both Mark and Rachel are in poor health but the charity enabled them to leave their home and meet other families in a similar situation.

After meeting with other families, staff members and trustees, Mr Cable said: “I visited Home-Start Winchester and saw for myself the excellent work being done to empower parents of young families to face the many and varied challenges they experience with increased confidence and a true feeling of mutual support and friendship.

“Long may the charity continue to transform the lives of both parents and children alike in such an impressive and long-lasting way.”