Health chiefs wrong on bed numbers, says report

Health chiefs got the figures wrong when they carried out a highly-controversial overhaul of community beds in Norfolk, according to a powerful watchdog group.

NHS Norfolk substantially under-estimated how many beds it would need for intermediate care – people who need extra attention to keep them out of an acute hospital, or while recovering from surgery – when changes were voted through in 2007, says a report to Norfolk County Council's Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC).

But NHS Norfolk deputy chief executive David Stonehouse denies any miscalculation and says bed numbers cannot be set in stone.

The HOSC report has been welcomed by campaigners who fought to keep community beds four years ago during the public consultation process on the changes.

Protests saw hundreds join marches and attend meetings in support of threatened community hospitals.

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'I am very pleased that the scrutiny committee is now saying this,' said Charles Simeons, who was at the forefront of the campaign to keep open the Lascelles ward at Kelling Hospital, near Holt, which closed as a result of the overhaul.

'You just need to look at the bed-blocking at the Norfolk and Norwich. When beds are blocked by people who don't need to be there, patients can't have the operations they are waiting for. Lascelles could be brought back into use at any time.'

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The report, produced by a HOSC group set up to monitor changes to intermediate care services in central Norfolk, says the bed numbers envisaged in 2007 were 'well below requirements,' despite NHS Norfolk recruiting 32 extra community staff to care for patients in their homes, and more efficient use of community hospitals.

As reported in the EDP in 2007, health chiefs originally proposed cutting beds from 201 to 158 but, after public consultation, they agreed on 104 rehabilitation and palliative care beds and 34 supported beds – in nursing homes – along with about 40 stroke rehabilitation beds.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he had been highly sceptical about the NHS's figures at the time and had intervened to challenge them, together with fellow Norfolk MPs Richard Bacon and Ian Gibson.

They had been especially concerned at the level of bed blocking in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital caused by patients waiting for community beds to become available.

'It seemed to me to be over ambitious at the time to imagine you could cut beds to such an extent when we had such a problem with delayed discharge from the Norfolk and Norwich,' said Mr Lamb.

'They have never implemented what they decided to do, in fact I think they may actually have had to increase bed numbers. It makes you wonder – how much did all that consultation work cost?'

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