• The case for cutting hospital beds in Eastern Devon gets off to a shaky start

    3rd October 2016 | News | Claire
  • Of course, we have already lost inpatient beds at Ottery St Mary, Axminster, Budleigh Salterton and Crediton Hospitals.  Oddly, Budleigh Salterton Hospital is held aloft by Hugo Swire MP as a fine example of a “health hub,” despite the fact that the building has been closed for around three years.

    Mr Swire has plumped for an option of bed closures which would see beds retained in hospitals in his own patch. Convenient. 

    The Success Regime is running the consultation – a task force set up by the government in order to slash the deficit in Devon as it is one of three most indebted health areas in the country.

    This organisation is doing the government’s bidding. It must cut costs. That’s its job.

    However, the information given to residents to help inform of them of the reasons these proposals are being made, I believe is sketchy at best. At worst it is distinctly misleading.

    The Success Regime says that other parts of Devon has fewer beds (because they have already been cut).  And to ensure that everyone has a similar service beds now need to go in Eastern Devon too.

    Our community hospitals have experienced a slow and steady decline of beds for years so the headline figures should really be taken into context alongside how many community beds there were 10 years ago let’s say. Ottery St Mary Hospital’s capacity is 24 beds for example, yet when the CCG last year decided to cut all Ottery’s inpatient beds, the numbers were based on the 10 beds remaining.

    The Success Regime is relying partly on a public health audit published in October last year to argue its case for more bed cuts. This audit also underpins proposals for major acute bed cuts, which will be consulted on next year.

    The Success Regime submitted a report to health scrutiny committee last month (which I am a member of) that stated a third of beds in community hospitals are not used. When I enquired where this information came from I was told that it came from the public health audit.

    I have studied the audit carefully and cannot find this statement anywhere. 

    BUT, what I can find is a statement on page 1 revealing that occupancy rates of hospital beds –both acute and community – have INCREASED in recent years to 96 per cent. 

    The audit, undertaken on 19 May 2015 –examines on page 9, the delay in discharging patients on the day of audit – and identifies a range of reasons for the problem. The most common being:

    – patients awaiting a community hospital placement – 79
    – patients awaiting a social care package – 59
    -ward closed due to infection – 40 (there were no wards closed in community hospitals for this reason on the date of the audit)
    – patients awaiting a health package of care – 38

    There’s more…

    The local NHS has claimed for some years that community beds are more expensive than acute beds. This is counter-intuitive and contrary to previous understanding.  We are also told that caring for people at home will save money.

    BUT the audit, on page 3, notes that acute beds are more expensive or cost the same as community beds.  Looking after a patient in alternative settings, including at home the report says, costs the same as hospital care!

    Yet health bosses insist that community bed cuts will save £5-6m a year. They say 20-40 per cent of running costs will be reinvested in providing care in people’s homes – which is apparently between £1 and £3m – a rather broad sum. 

    NHS England denies that Devon’s health service is underfunded, but with a projected deficit of £430m by 2020 it is one of three most financially challenged health areas in the country, and there is clearly a problem!

    As a member of Devon County Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee I proposed at the 19 September meeting that we refer the issue of chronic health underfunding in Devon, to Sarah Wollaston MP, who chairs the Health Select Committee.  This was agreed.

    Some members of the health scrutiny committee, including me, will also investigate the government’s funding of our health area.

    East Devon’s MP, of course, has been silent over the issue of funding.

    My analysis of the evidence continues.

    The consultation starts on Friday 7 October.

    Pic:  Roger Giles and I at our public meeting in October 2014 when it was announced that Ottery Hospital’s inpatient beds would shut. Over 200 people attended the meeting.