• Health scrutiny committee registers objection to North Devon hospital bed losses

    12th November 2015 | News | Claire
  • Hospitals will remain at Holsworthy and South Molton.

    Torrington hospital’s beds were shut over a year ago – and the process leading up to this decision, as well as its impact, is currently being investigated by a task group of the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee. I am a member of this task group.

    The main reason cited by the trust for shutting the hospitals is financial, with a funding gap of £11m, as well as difficulties in recruiting staff.

    As a member of the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, which met on Tuesday (10 November) I made a proposal to record an objection to the decision, based on views expressed by NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group , over 20 North Devon GPs and a consultant at North Devon District Hospital.

    Although Northern Devon Healthcare Trust’s report gave the general impression that the CCG was not opposed to the bed losses, a small paragraph near the end of its report gave an extract from a letter from the CCG, which stated: “….We are concerned at the singular emphasis on finances, the timing of the consultation, together with the possible impact on system resilience and patient safety.

    “As discussed previously and to be clear the CCG will not support proposals for bed or unit closures, but only a flex range for the existing community beds.”
    A letter from Dr Mervyn Dent – a consultant in elderly care at North Devon District Hospital was very critical indeed. Key quotes included: “ …. We have at least 30 too few beds in North Devon District Hospital to manage the winter surge.

    “Despite this, every year, including this year, we have had further significant bed losses and we now have a situation where even using our elective and day surgery bed capacity does not give us sufficient resilience.

    Safety and the achievement of important cancer waiting time targets are likely to be severely compromised.”

    Dr Dent’s letter continues: “…. A need to reopen capacity with agency staffing. These costs may dwarf any savings achieved by the bed closures.

    “None of the consultants present including leads for the emergency department, medicine, surgery and elderly care felt able to support any of the trust’s proposed options.

    “If the Board decides to go ahead with bed closures next week, they do so against the unambiguous and forcefully expressed advice of their own lead clinicians and must take responsibility for any consequential service failure or adverse clinical outcomes this winter.”

    A letter signed by around 20 North Devon GPs was similarly critical. It states: “Vulnerable patients this winter could find themselves with inadequate community nursing, physiotherapy and other ancillary services, as well as an over-stretched primary care GP service which will be forced into taking clinical responsibility in an inadequate and under-resourced system.”

    “If staff cannot be attracted to work at the community hospitals it is unlikely they will be recruited in a timely manner to provide sufficient community nursing cover to the local population, resulting in unsafe levels of staff to cover patients discharged from NDDH in the community ….”

    My proposal to record concerns about the decision to close hospital beds was backed by all the councillors on the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, save two Conservatives – Jerry Brook and

    Polly Colthorpe – who asked that their votes against the motion be recorded in the minutes.

    Northern Devon Healthcare Trust representatives have been asked to report back to the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee at its next meeting in January.

    The webcast of Tuesday’s meeting is here. This is item number 5.