Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Care unit opening delayed yet again

THE new care unit at Townlands Hospital designed to replace the lost beds is now unlikely to open

THE new care unit at Townlands Hospital designed to replace the lost beds is now unlikely to open until next year.

The latest delay has been caused by the need to convert the first floor at the new hospital, which was built according to the original plans with an 18-bed ward.

It means that the project is now more than a year behind schedule, leading to accusations that health chiefs are “incompetent”.

It is now a year since the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group decided to scrap the planned bedded ward and instead have a rapid access care unit designed to ensure more patients are treated at home. But an amended tender to convert the first floor to accommodate the unit and consulting rooms only went out at the beginning of this month — six months after the £10million hospital was opened.

This comes after the commissioning group, which is responsible for services at the hospital, failed to recruit a clinical lead for the unit and instead agreed to a “soft launch” early next month — more than 10 months after the original opening date.

Now the new date will also be missed due to the delayed tender process involving NHS Property Services, who owns the new building.

The care unit will offer services such as antibiotic treatment and transfusions and will operate alongside a minor injuries unit, podiatry, outpatient services, physiotherapy and out-of-hours GP services at the hospital as well as the eight beds at the neighbouring Orders of St John care home, which is due to open later this year but is also behind schedule.

The latest delay was revealed at a meeting of the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group, which was not open to the public.

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, said: “The unit’s pathway to opening is uncertain and relatively undefined. There have been problems with refitting it from a bedded unit to become a rapid access care unit.

“The original tender went out in July. They knew months ago they had to do this but they can’t organise the simplest of projects. This is just incompetence from NHS Property Services.

“They had hoped to open the unit this year but the general feeling now is it will be well into next year.

“The delay is disappointing — the unit has been sold to us as being better than a bedded ward, so we want to see it open.”

Henley Mayor Julian Bookes, who represents the town on the stakeholders group, said: “The tender that went out in July was found to be wanting, so another one went out last Friday.

“It’s somewhat disappointing to find out it only went out then when the building was finished six months ago.

“Frustration is the word. We will get the unit but it’s proving a rather tortuous trail.

“For the next stakeholders group meeting I’ve asked if we can have NHS Property Services present so we can get chapter and verse on precisely when it will open and what needs to be done.

“We’ve got to hold feet to the fire and make sure it happens as soon as possible.”

NHS Property Services said it could not give a date when the unit would open.

A spokesman said: “The first floor of the building was delivered by our contractors to the original specification as a bedded unit.

“Due to the change in requirements of local commissioners, the space needs to be reconfigured to enable the rapid access care unit to be provided there.

“We have been working closely with NHS partners to establish their revised requirements.

“Our construction partners have recently informed us they are unable to deliver the reconfigured space in the timeframe that was originally indicated due to the need for a further legal agreement and additional technical detail.

“We are awaiting further information regarding the revised schedule from our contractors and we are working with all parties to ensure this work is carried out as quickly as possible and to ensure best value.”

Cllr Reissmann said a presentation on the new unit at the stakeholders group meeting was “disappointing” and “patronising”.

He said: “They had produced a very clear plan with dates for the unit to open on October 3 but I’ve asked for an update of that plan and had no reply.

“A detailed plan with dates must exist but it has not been shared. If the commissioning group and other NHS bodies shared information more openly there would be considerably less suspicion.”

Anne Brierley, service director for Oxford Health NHS Trust, which is working with the commissioning group and the Royal Berkshire Hospital to provide services at Townlands, told the meeting that the unit would be run by a nursing team and interim doctor until a clinical lead was found.

She said the interim lead was an experienced gerontologist who would initially work three sessions per week but the unit would be staffed by nurses and therapists from 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday with a shorter shift on Sundays.

She said she was “quite comfortable” to go ahead with the soft launch.

A spokesman for Oxford Health NHS Trust said: “Commissioners and healthcare providers continue to work hard to appoint the right clinical team for the rapid access care unit, to be led by a consultant geriatrician and supported by an associate specialist in elderly care, lead nurse and therapy staff.

“Some staff are already appointed to start working in the unit in November, subject to clinical environment and safety checks.”

The next meeting of the stakeholders group will be held on Tuesday, October 4 in public.

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