Community hospital bombshell

MARK NICHOLLS Community hospitals across Norfolk are facing the axe after the county's new health trust unveiled a radical revamp of services. Up to 120 of the 227 beds at nine community hospitals in Norfolk are also under threat as Norfolk Primary Care Trust - which has debts of up to £50m - announced it plans to treat more patients in their own homes.

MARK NICHOLLS

Community hospitals across Norfolk are facing the axe after the county's new health trust unveiled a radical revamp of services.

Up to 120 of the 227 beds at nine community hospitals in Norfolk are also under threat as Norfolk Primary Care Trust - which has debts of up to £50m - announced it plans to treat more patients in their own homes.

The bombshell comes just three months after the Government announced a £750m funding package for community hospitals.

But the PCTs director of provider services Mark Taylor said: “Norfolk cannot support the number of community hospitals it has a present.”

Under the plans to be presented to the first meeting of the PCT board next Thursday , Mr Taylor will seek to go out to consultation on plans to “modernise” intermediate care services across Norfolk, which would see more patients supported in their own home rather than admitted to a community hospital for care.

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North Norfolk Norman Lamb -who has campaigned against the loss of community hospitals and beds - urged the PCTs to think twice before its closes any community hospitals.

“I think we should celebrate local health care and with an elderly population in rural areas there is something very good about local community hospitals providing high quality of care and we should not treat them as a luxury,” he said.

Hospitals are under threat of closure, or having their bed numbers slashed, are: Benjamin Court, Cromer; North Walsham Hospital; St Michael's Hospital, Aylsham; Cranmer House, Fakenham; Swaffham Hospital; Dereham Hospital; Norwich Community Hospital (formerly the West Norwich Hospital); Ogden Court, Wymondham; and Kelling Hospital at Holt.

Mr Taylor said the nine hospitals have 227 beds between them and a cut of 30-50pc of those was on the cards.

It marks the second significant community hospital bed cull in Norfolk. Two years ago when the Better Care for Norfolk initiative was introduced - which began the move toward treating more patients in their own homes - bed numbers were cut. At that time there were 347 community hospital beds in the county.

Mr Taylor said the proposed changes did still sit with the Government's policy for community hospitals. He said that while there would have to be fewer hospitals, the services at those that remained would be extended and could include diagnostic facilities, x-ray and ultrasound scans.

He added: “It is about improving the way our services are delivered, that needs to change and the idea for these changes have come from clinicians.

“This will be a more cost effective way of delivering care with teams supporting people in their homes rather than in hospital beds.”

He refused to be drawn on the number of jobs that would be lost. The indications are that a significant number of hospital-based staff will be retrained and redeployed to operate in the community but some administrative posts may go.

The new PCT says the scheme builds on the success of similar services already in place in parts of Norfolk, such as the Norwich Community Hospital Outreach Service and the Broadland Health at Home Team.

Mr Taylor stressed: “It is very important to emphasise these proposed changes are not just about saving money. We have a wealth of evidence that patients prefer to receive their care at home whenever possible and there are very high satisfaction ratings. The patient remains the centre piece of our plans.

“The outreach teams are not a cheap option as they require high levels of very skilled nurses and therapists. However, they are considerably more cost-effective than hospital beds.”

He also said that the infrastructure would be in place to meet patient's needs in their own homes once the numbers of hospital are cutback.

The consultation over the plans is likely to be over 90 days with patients, staff and community officials.

Cromer Hospital latest, see page 14.