‘Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is at the centre of a perfect storm’

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

We all loved Yes Minister, that great series which poked fun at government administration and had many of us chortling.

Yes, we said, I'll bet that's just how it is in Whitehall, too many administrators running rings round ministers so that the Civil Service effectively runs the country, not elected politicians.

Margaret Thatcher was said to have loved the programme and never missed an episode while swinging her handbag in preparation for the next confrontation the Cabinet Office staff.

But the biggest piece of lunacy today involves the health service and nowhere is that so apparent as in Norfolk.

Many of you may remember when the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital was being planned we were told that fewer beds would be needed as hospitals were treating patients more quickly. We were told that keyhole surgery epitomised this, as serious and complex procedures could be undertaken with just two tiny incisions.

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Many community groups protested that the hospital needed more beds. But bear in mind that this was a Private Finance Initiative, so the Department of Health was all too eager to build as small a hospital as it could get away with. Then Norfolk became a retirement destination of choice so there were older people with more calls on hospitals. And considerable advances in medicines mean better drugs keep people living longer.

After the new hospital was built our smaller community hospitals closed.

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And now we have a perfect storm. More patients, fewer beds and limited halfway care beds devoted to assisting recovery and rehabilitation. Throw into that mix the lunacy of fining hospitals for missing their targets.

The N&N has plans to expand, £10m worth of plans, but is reluctant to commit the cash. Even though these fines have been put on hold for a year it is a financial threat which has to be budgeted for.

Add to that the fact that the organisations imposing these fines are the local Clinical Commissioning Groups, those who hold the purse strings to pay for our health needs from GPs and community care and major hospitals.

The government orders them to impose the fines and then to use the cash as they feel fit.

So. We have a hospital which wants to expand but has £10m in fines hanging over its head. And unless it expands it can't meet its targets and will face bigger sanctions in the years to come. The government should stop this lunacy now, stop fining hospitals, make commissioning groups return the fines if they are made to the hospitals. And they should encourage the commissioners to build small rehab units to relieve the problems of bed blocking. You can see this is needed, I can see it, and those much forgotten section of society called patients can see it.

Will it happen? Just wait 'til the Ministry of Administrative Affairs gets to work. That television series never was fiction. As far as today's health service is concerned it is sheer fact.

The views above are those of Richard Watts. Read more from our columnists each day in the EDP and Evening News.

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