Blueprint reveals Norfolk NHS beds' fate

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor Key details of a radical shake-up of Norfolk's health services - including the fate of community hospital beds - were branded “very, very disturbing” by an MP last night .

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

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Key details of a radical shake-up of Norfolk's health services - including the fate of community hospital beds - were branded “very, very disturbing” by an MP last night .

Norfolk's cash-strapped primary care trust published its latest blueprint for the future of primary care - spelling out how it will provide more care for patients in their own homes rather than in NHS facilities.

The blueprint emerged as campaigners from across the region descended on Westminster to lobby MPs against cutting services across the NHS and to give ministers the clear message: “hands off our hospital beds”.

According to the PCT's report, up to 70 of Norfolk's 201 community hospital beds will be lost - while 26 specialist care beds in units, including hospices, will not be affected.

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While the proposed cut is lower than initial fears of a cull of 120 beds, the move raises questions about how many of the county's nine community hospitals will survive.

The PCT's report states there is a growing need for home-based care with an increasing elderly population and a rise in the number of mental health patients, pointing to a recent snapshot survey that suggested more than a third of hospital patients would be better placed at home.

It also proposes creating a specialist care unit for stroke victims of 30 to 40 beds.

But unanswered questions remain about where the stroke unit will be set up, which hospitals will see beds cut or face closure and how much money the PCT - which faces debts of £50m - could save.

Further details of the shake-up, including the locations of the proposed remaining community units, will be unveiled in the next few weeks.

In recent months the EDP Save Our Beds campaign has highlighted concerns about the future of North Walsham Hospital; Benjamin Court, Cromer; St Michael's Hospital, Aylsham; Cranmer House, Fakenham; Swaffham Hospital; Dereham Hospital; Norwich Community Hospital (formerly West Norwich Hospital); Ogden Court, Wymondham, and Kelling Hospital, Holt.

Mark Taylor, director of public services at Norfolk PCT, said: “We won't accept this is cost-cutting. It is not like we are cutting beds and not replacing them with home-based care, which is more cost effective but fundamentally patients prefer it.”

But North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb - whose constituency includes four community units - told the EDP he feared that the county's nine hospitals would be reduced to two or three.

Mr Lamb said: “They are looking at units of 25 beds minimum which would mean two to three community hospitals across the whole of Norfolk and a stroke unit which I would have thought would be in Norwich.

“We have an elderly population in a rural area and while one can throw up a model of what's appropriate one has to take into account the reality on the ground and the nature of the county and I am not sure it has. The picture looks pretty drastic and very, very disturbing.”

Earlier, Mr Lamb, who is the Liberal Democrat's shadow health secretary, told the Commons that the PCT in Norfolk was burdened by “an impossible, inherited, historic deficit of £50m”.

He predicted that capital receipts from the sale of hospital land could be used to clear the debt.

Mr Lamb said Labour's last general election manifesto had talked of developing “a new generation of modern NHS community hospitals”.

“If that is the case, one is led to the inevitable conclusion that the closures are an unplanned knee-jerk response to the financial crisis the NHS faces this year. So which is it? Were the closures planned and they just didn't tell us, or is it crisis management?”

He later went to the Department of Health to hand in an 8000-signature 'hands off our hospitals' petition opposing closures in Norfolk.

Outside the Commons hundreds of protesters joined a rally to highlight growing opposition to the loss of jobs and cuts in services in the NHS.