Anger over decision to close ‘excellent’ 24-bed ward in Norwich
- Credit: Copyright Archant Norfolk.
A 24-bed ward which helps a hospital discharge patients faster will close in three weeks - less than two years after opening.
The Henderson Unit, at Julian Hospital, Bowthorpe Road, Norwich, will cease to operate from October 21 because health chiefs say the money to fund it has run out.
The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) said the decision to close the ward, which it runs with Norfolk County Council, was 'disappointing'.
Staff have reacted with anger as the closure of the ward means they will have to be redeployed, and some may have to apply for new positions.
It opened in November 2014 as part of a one-year initiative to meet the 'winter pressures', but continued to stay open due to its success.
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Patients are admitted to the unit if they are medically fit to leave the hospital, but not yet healthy enough to start living independently at home again.
The unit has played a key part in helping the N&N in the battle to prevent delayed discharges, where patients are medically fit to leave the hospital but cannot do so because a package of care is not in place for them outside hospital.
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One staff member told this newspaper: 'We were told there was funding available for the unit until March next year, and we were only told about the closure last week.
'We are all shocked by it.'
After the unit's first year the N&N paid for the unit's continuation - but the hospital says it can no longer afford to keep funding it.
The hospital has been in financial special measures since July and needs to make £20m of savings.
N&N chiefs approached North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group to ask for funding but the CCG, which leads on acute care on behalf of South Norfolk and Norwich CCG (all three known as the central Norfolk CCGs) said none of the three CCGs could provide any extra cash.
The CCGs must make savings totalling around £34m this year.
A spokesman for North Norfolk CCG said: 'This was always a time-limited agreement and no commitment was given to its future funding.
'The CCGs pay the N&N for activity, not for set-up or running costs of units.'
The closure is estimated to save £2m over the next two years - though one MP said the closure was a 'false economy' that will heap more pressure on the social care system.
A spokesman for N&N said: 'The decision to close the unit will be a disappointing one for a number of N&N and county council staff who have combined to provide an excellent facility since the unit was established.
'A key element of the rationale for the Henderson Unit was to facilitate patient 'flow' through the N&N.
'We are exploring alternative opportunities to achieve the same result but at less financial cost.
'Arrangements are in place for a 'wind down' of the unit, with no new patients being referred and staff taking up other duties within the trust.'
A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: 'We are currently focused on finding alternative employment opportunities for our experienced team, primarily within Adult Social Services. 'There are also opportunities for staff to apply for vacancies at the NNUH. We are therefore confident that we will be able to find employment for all our staff.'
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South whose constituency contains the unit, said: 'This unit is providing a great service for patients and preventing unnecessary expenditure at the same time. Closing it makes absolutely no sense whichever way you look at it.
'Financially it's a total false economy for our local NHS as a whole and our county's adult social care system.
'At best, this proposal will heap yet more pressure on an Adult Social Care system already being cut to shreds by central government cuts to local councils.
'The tendrils of this can be traced back to Downing Street. It's this government which is squeezing the life out of our NHS by demanding huge so-called savings at the same time as demand for services is soaring.'
Sue Vaughan, of Keep Our NHS Public, said: 'This will not produce any savings because people who need those beds will either stay in the N&N or go home and become emergency patients again.'
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