MP slams 24-bed unit closure as number of patients stuck in hospital rises

The Henderson Unit is situated at the Julian Hospital, Norwich; For : Evening News/EDP; Copy : Katie

The Henderson Unit is situated at the Julian Hospital, Norwich; For : Evening News/EDP; Copy : Katie Cooper/Shaun Lowthorpe; Photo : Steve Adams; Copyright Archant Norfolk - Credit: Copyright Archant Norfolk.

An MP has hit out at the lack of joined-up thinking as patients and staff attack plans to close a hospital unit.

Richard Bacon, the Conservative MP for South Norfolk, said he 'very much regretted' the decision to shut the 24-bed Henderson Unit, at the Julian Hospital, on Bowthorpe Road, Norwich, and accused health chiefs of spending money unwisely.

The unit, run by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) and Norfolk County Council, closes on October 21 and will save £2m over two years.

It comes as this newspaper reveals bed-blocking, where patients stay in hospital unnecessarily, at the N&N has risen by 76pc since the unit was opened in December 2014.

The Henderson Unit was set up less than two years ago to help the hospital discharge patients sooner.

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It treats patients who are medically fit to leave hospital but not yet ready live independently or with a package of care at home.

Neither the N&N, which is in financial special measures, nor the area's clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which must save more than £30m this year, are prepared to fund the unit.

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But Mr Bacon, whose constituency contains the N&N, said: 'If there had been more joined-up thinking then I think another decision could have been reached.

'I very much regret this decision.'

He said the present structure of Norfolk's NHS didn't allow problems to be confronted by 'the system as a whole'.

'It is when the whole system owns the whole problem that we get proper solutions,' he said.

'But this squabbling about whose budget the money should come from is not part of the answer – it's part of the problem.'

He said some of the money given to the NHS by the government was 'spent very badly' – and pointed to money spent on agencies through which NHS chiefs are hired and the administrative costs of running Norfolk and Waveney's five CCGs.

Mr Bacon added the government had given 'lots of money' to the NHS – though Parliament's health select committee reported total health spending would only rise by £4.5bn in 2020/21, and not the £8.4bn by pledged in last year's Conservative general election manifesto.

Bed-blocking is estimated to cost the NHS £900m annually.

But Mr Bacon said bed-blocking need not happen at all if services were more joined up – such as in Northumbria, where the main hospital trust also provides social care services and the problem rarely occurs.

'The different elements in this jigsaw puzzle must be started earlier,' Mr Bacon said.

'From the moment a patient is admitted to hospital planning of discharge should start straight away. 'I appreciate local managers have got difficult jobs. But I think tax-payers deserve better,' he added.

There are around 30 patients every night at the N&N that are medically fit to leave but cannot do so because a care package is not in place outside hospital, a spokesman for the hospital said.

In May that figure stood at around 70 patients per night.

The spokesman said: 'Over recent months we have been working ever closer with our partners to ensure that it is possible for patients to be discharged from hospital with as little delay as possible, so that we can admit other patients who need our services.

'The number of delayed discharges has reduced since May and we will continue this work to help maintain the position as the Henderson Unit closes.'

Alex Stewart, chief executive of health watchdog Healthwatch Norfolk, said he understood the N&N's reasons for closing the unit – but wants work carried out to assess the impact.

'I do understand the N&N's decision because it's an incredibly costly service,' he said. 'I would like to see the N&N track patients who would have been admitted to the unit to see how many end up back in the N&N because they didn't get that extra care post discharge.

'I do wonder whether or not closing the unit could be a false economy. I feel not enough work has been done to look into it.'

Rosemary Bickers, whose father Eric Saunders, of Norwich, was treated at the unit for four weeks, said she was horrified at the closure.

'The care he was given was second to none,' she said. 'There is no way he would have been able to go straight home from hospital.

'He needed the service and care the Henderson Unit gave him.

'I cannot believe they can begin to think of closure.'

The unit's 15 staff who work for the N&N are expected to fill other posts at the hospital.

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