Monday, 06 April 2020
HEALTH chiefs could open more beds at hospitals or NHS clinics to make up for the closure of the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.
Oxfordshire’s clinical commissioning group says it is “actively exploring” its options after campaigners raised concerns about a feared shortfall in care.
Henley town councillors have called on the group to set up a bedded palliative care facility elsewhere in the district at either an existing hospice or in a dedicated facility.
They have also demanded public consultation on the charity’s decision to shut Joyce Grove in Nettlebed, which has six beds, at the end of next month in order to concentrate on its “hospice at home” service, which offers telephone advice and home visits 24 hours a day.
However, the county’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee says consultation is unnecessary because it believes few people will be affected by the closure.
In 2018, Sue Ryder announced it was to close the hospice but pledged to maintain a facility with at least eight beds. Then last month the charity said demand for beds was now so low that a new inpatient unit wouldn’t be viable and the few patients who needed one could be referred to its Duchess of Kent hospice in Reading or the Sobell House hospice near Oxford.
Campaigners question this and say that many patients’ families couldn’t have coped without the respite offered by a traditional service.
Councillor Ian Reissmann, who is chairman of the Townlands Steering Group, says a consultation would force the charity to publish figures to back up its argument.
He told a meeting of the scrutiny committee last week that while there are just two patients at the hospice currently, overall demand is much greater and there have been people who couldn’t get a place at Nettlebed and had to use the outpatient service instead.
Cllr Reissmann said: “We were disappointed at the news that the closure of Joyce Grove was likely but partly reassured when we heard that Sue Ryder recognised that a home-based service could not entirely replace Joyce Grove and beds would be retained in a new location.
“The community deserve clear answers about the way patients and families who need this service will be provided for after March, for example, the Duchess of Kent facility’s capacity to take extra patients. We will be pressing Sue Ryder and the commissioning group to explain this clearly.
“An agreed need for eight beds with an average occupancy of three weeks leaves 156 patients and their families affected every year.
“Many of those affected are often reliant on public transport. For example, from Henley the journey to the Duchess of Kent would take one hour and 10 minutes plus waiting time by public transport. From other areas it will be longer, or not even possible.
“It is not fair to ask patients and families to travel longer distances at such a difficult time.”
The meeting was attended by commissioning group chief executive Lou Patten.
Afterwards, Cllr Reissmann told the Henley Standard: “Both the commissioning group and the scrutiny committee have now heard the community’s concerns loud and clear.
“The commissioning group’s chief executive has made clear that the group did not expect this announcement and is concerned about the provision of end-of-life and palliative care in South Oxfordshire.
“Its plans for the end of March aren’t yet fully formed but they are considering various options.
“It’s fair to say they’re taking their responsibilities seriously and want to make sure that the service will continue but haven’t settled on how they will do that. A number of options are being discussed.
“The most important thing is to ensure that patients’ needs are met, whatever form that may take.
“Neither the scrutiny committee nor the commissioning group has given any indication that consultation is appropriate or necessary. However, it would force Sue Ryder to explain their plans in more detail.
“The scrutiny committee hasn’t given sufficient prominence to the true extent of demand. It says only a couple of people will be affected but that’s a very misleading conclusion and we really need more data on that.
“How many people, for example, have tried to get into the hospice but had to rely on the home service because there wasn’t a bed?
“We know for a fact that people have been turned away and we should have those figures in order to effectively scrutinise them.”
Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who is a member of the town and county council, also attended the meeting.
He said: “We just want Sue Ryder’s figures to be scrutinised because we don’t believe their demand predictions are plausible.
“I’m sure there are many, many more people who would want this service and it should be provided.
“The commissioning group has a duty to predict future demand and come up with some kind of solution, whether that’s in partnership with another charity or not.”
Sue Ryder said it must close the hospice because it is not economical to maintain an historic Grade II listed property that wasn’t built for the purpose. It had to raise £3.1 million a year to deliver all its services in South Oxfordshire and only about a quarter comes from public funding.
It said occupancy at Nettlebed had continually dropped from about 70 per cent in 2018 to below 40 per cent at times a year later.
It also says the overall number of inpatient referrals has fallen but declined to release these figures.
It says the outpatient hub has become increasingly popular since it was launched in April 2018.
The hospice had 12 beds but this was halved last year as occupancy had dropped to about 50 per cent.
A spokeswoman for the commissioning group said: “Health providers like Sue Ryder can give notice on contracts... we have discussed this with the health scrutiny committee, which agreed formal consultation wasn’t necessary.
“Both Sue Ryder and the CCG have communicated the decision to a wide variety of stakeholders, including GPs and other providers, who refer people to the charity’s services.
“We are actively exploring options around specialist palliative care services to see if we can develop any additional inpatient provision within existing facilities.”
She said the group understood Sue Ryder’s concerns about the viability of an inpatient unit as the number of requests for beds has dropped since the outpatient care service started.
She said the total number of referrals increased from 253 between April and December in 2018 to 388 over the same period last year but most were cared for at home.
She said: “Although most patients are choosing hospice at home care, there is a small number of people with complex medical needs for whom inpatient care is necessary and appropriate.
“The very small number of people in South Oxfordshire who may need this will have alternative provision at the Duchess of Kent hospice and Sobell House.”
In 2014, the charity pulled out of a deal to move into the top floor at Townlands because there wasn’t enough room for additional services and it didn’t want to operate across more than one site. The space is still unused.
There is also an empty ward at Wallingford Community Hospital, which Cllrs Reissmann and Gawrysiak say could accommodate an inpatient unit.
17 February 2020
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