Thursday, 05 August 2021

Townlands unit opens 10 months late

THE rapid access care unit at the new Townlands Hospital will finally open in October.

THE rapid access care unit at the new Townlands Hospital will finally open in October.

The unit, which was originally supposed to start in December, was delayed several times after the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which runs services at the £10 million hospital, failed to recruit a clinical lead.

Despite this, the group has now decided to give the go-ahead for a “soft launch”, where the unit will be run by a nursing team and interim doctor until a lead is found.

But it still does not have a date for the full completion of the unit as the group says it will not be rushed into hiring a lead and wants “the right person”.

The unit replaces the 14-bed Peppard Ward at the old hospital and will run alongside eight beds at the neighbouring Orders of St John care home when it opens later this year, with six more on demand.

It will offer services including antibiotic treatment and transfusions and will operate alongside a minor injuries unit, podiatry, outpatient services and physiotherapy and out-of-hours GP services at the new hospital.

The commissioning group had been criticised by campaigners including the Townlands Steering Group for a “lack of foresight” in recruiting the lead.

But the service director for Oxford Health, which is working with the commissioning group and the Royal Berks hospital to provide services at the hospital, says it is more important to find the right candidate for the role.

At a meeting of the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group, which was held in public at Henley town hall on Tuesday, Anne Brierley said the organisations were working hard to recruit the lead but she wouldn’t put a deadline on the appointment.

She said: “We will keep trying to get it fully open as soon as we can but until they’ve signed on the dotted line I can’t make any promises. Getting the right people in the posts is more important than just having the posts filled.

“I’ve often wished I could magic up staff at the right time but there is a national problem around this sort of role.

“I would love to have the post filled and the unit up and running but until I’ve secured the medical cover I won’t promise something I can’t deliver.

“I’ve seen the Royal Berks work so hard and imaginatively to get the posts filled. I’m not going to compromise on the quality of staff to meet a timetable.

“The Royal Berks has worked hard to find the right doctor to come in and run the service. I’m confident the Royal Berks are doing all they can.

“I feel quite comfortable with a soft launch but not at full tilt.”

Ms Brierley said the interim lead, an “experienced gerontologist”, would initially work three sessions per week, but the unit would be staffed by nurses and therapists from 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday and a shorter shift on Sunday.

She added that much of the work would be done by the nursing and therapy teams, and more than half of those had already been appointed.

Ms Brierley said: “The nurses and therapists have a key role in supervising treatment, there are a range of things done that start with with a doctor’s assessment but the majority of work is carried out by the multidisciplinary team.

“The doctors are a really important part of this but it’s just a part of it and we don’t always need a doctor on site.

“The first stop was to offer those nursing and therapy posts to staff from the old Peppard Ward. We are in the process of recruiting the remaining posts.

“We have appointed a lead nurse. The silver lining of the launch taking longer than anticipated is we have a lot more time now to train the staff and bring them together to get experience working in a team. We have also appointed a deputy nurse who was a deputy nurse at the Peppard Ward.

“I know how important it is to get it fully doctored as soon as possible but I’m not going to say we will get it done by whenever because it’s really important we get the right people. We will need two or three familiar faces from a doctor’s point of view.

“Running the unit day-to-day and seeing patients sits with the nurses and therapists absolutely.”

Mark Robson, operations director at the Royal Berks, said the current service wouldn’t need a doctor all the time and that the soft launch is a good opportunity to see how it works.

Mr Robson said: “The service doesn’t justify a full time consultant so it will be a sessional basis two or three times a week, working with the therapists and nurses.

“Having it on a sessional basis is a good way to start and see how the service develops. I wouldn’t underestimate the therapy side of this, they are the foundation of the service.”

Members of the Townlands Steering Group said they were pleased that the unit would be operating in October but called for a deadline for it to be completely opened.

Councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, said: “You spent last year telling us what a great new pathway the care unit would offer but it’s still not open. Can you make that your highest priority?

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who also sits on the reference group, said: “I’m concerned that we’ve got a go live date of October for the soft launch and no date for full completion. If we launch it soft in October it should be December 1.

“We have been waiting 18 months for this and part of the reason we have got movement is that the steering group has been pushing consistently.”

Tony May, a Henley resident and Wargrave Surgery patient: “The staffing problem is not just short term, it’s an ongoing problem for any small unit.

“Surely there’s a larger organisation like the Royal Berks who could take on responsibility for staffing when needed. When people go on holiday or are ill you need back-up commitment.”

Steering group member and former Hart Surgery GP Peter Ashby suggested that doctors from the Royal Berks or hospitals in Oxford could be approached to work part-time at Townlands alongside their other jobs.

He said: “We used to have a doctor from Oxford and it was a very good working system. One or two could come out to provide medical care without huge expense.

“That is probably more likely to succeed than a full-time role because if I was a budding young consultant I don’t think it would be a very attractive proposition, it’s quite a small unit.

“I first got involved with this in 1983 and very single deadline has slipped or been missed. We need the commissioning group to say what it is aiming for and put deadlines on it.”

Ms Brierley said that patients who require hospital admissions would have to travel to Wallingford until the care home beds are available later this year.

She said: “We estimate that 10 to 15 per cent of patients in the unit might need admission to short term beds and we wil have to transfer them to Wallingford.

“We will always do everything we can to keep them at home and supported but if we can’t do that it will be Wallingford. We opened 10 beds to cope with the Peppard Ward closing and they are still open and used.”

Ms Brierley also added that the unit would not open before minor works on the floor had been carried out but she expected that to be completed by October.

She said: “There are two things that are critical to the opening of the unit. The first is the right medical cover, the other part is that we have agreed how the first floor will be modified.

“It’s taken us longer than expected. We have gone out to tender for the works ahead of the launch date in October.

“Everything else in the plan will happen by October.”

The hospital could also officially be opened alongside the care home before the end of the year. Communications manager Julia Stackhouse said the commissioning group was talking to the Orders of St John and other organisations about an opening ceremony and had suggested a November date.

Meanwhile, residents have been asked to share their views on renaming the hospital the “Townlands Memorial Hospital”.

In May, the Henley Standard reported the a petition had been launched calling for the name of Henley’s old War Memorial Hospital to be included in the new Townlands development.

The idea was first put forward by visitors to an exhibition to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War at the Old Fire Station Gallery in 2014.

Woodcote historian Mike Willoughby, who staged the exhibition as part of the Lest We Forget project, raised the idea again following the completion of the hospital.

NHS Property Services, which owns the hospital building, wrote to Henley Town Council last week and has asked for residents’ thoughts on the new name by Friday, August 19.

A spokesperson for NHS Property Services said: “We believe it is important that any decision regarding the name of the hospital reflects the wishes of local people and those who use the hospital.

“In the first instance, we have written to the town council as the local democratically accountable body to seek its official view on this and we would therefore encourage anyone with any views about the proposal to share them with their local town councillor.”

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