Monday, 02 August 2021

New hospital with no beds

THERE will be no beds at Townlands Hospital when it opens in December.

THERE will be no beds at Townlands Hospital when it opens in December.

Despite calls to install 18 in the new building, as originally promised, health chiefs have instead agreed to “buy” eight beds from the neighbouring care home, which has not yet been built.

Up to six more beds would be available at the home “on demand”.

This is despite the new hospital’s second floor being empty after Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal to relocate its hospice from Nettlebed. Campaigners have branded the decision by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s governing body a “disaster”.

Former mayor Jeni Wood said the existing Peppard ward, which has 14 beds, would vanish when the current hospital was demolished to make way for the £16million “health campus”.

“I feel total disappointment as we are losing something good which we already have,” she said. “It has taken us 12 years to get this new hospital and it’s now a white elephant with no beds. Beds are what we need.

“I’m very worried that the commissioning group is willing to rent beds from the care home rather than put them in the hospital.

“Those beds should be used for care home patients and there might not be any spare for respite care. Yet we have an empty floor at the hospital. Why can’t we take the top floor and use it as a ward? It makes no sense to me.”

Mrs Wood said she wanted the community to continue fighting the decision and to even seek a judicial review.

“I’m sad that people appear to be taking this lying down,” she said. “The commissioning group’s board are just people and we pay their wages.

“I don’t think a legal challenge would be a bad thing if it brought good news.”

Dave Smewing, also a former mayor and member of the Townlands Steering Group, said: “It is my opinion that a hospital with no beds is not a hospital at all.

“At the moment we have Peppard ward with a complete team of nurses.

“The consultation carried out by the commissioning group was seriously flawed and should be repeated. The best way to do this is through a judicial review.”

Dick Fletcher, from Mill End, Hambleden, said: “It’s a disaster. I’m very disappointed that the commissioning group won’t consider the inhabitants of Henley. They dismissed a 3,000-strong petition by the Henley Standard and have no concern for our thoughts. These days the civil servants are in charge and there’s not enough power in local communities.

“This new service will be very easy to cut in the future. I’m not a betting man but I wouldn’t be surprised if the hospital is a block of flats in 10 years’ time.”

The commissioning group’s board made the decision at a meeting in Oxford on Thursday last week, saying it was “satisfied” that issues around bed provision, staffing and transitional plans had been met.

As well as the beds at the Orders of St John Trust care home, the new Townlands will have a new rapid access care unit designed to ensure more patients are treated at home.

The board rejected a last-minute call by the steering group to install 14 beds in a special “Peppard Wing” at the care home with qualified nurses and 24-hour care assistants.

David Smith, chief executive of the commissioning group, said: “Our modelling shows that we should commission five to eight beds. If we commissioned 14 beds, as the steering group asked, that would incur an additional cost. We are also satisfied that the Orders of St John can meet the standards we require for the beds.

“We have made a number of concessions following feedback we have received and we have endeavoured to explain how the new model of care will work. Because there’s more space in the hospital there’s going to be an issue of it not being used to the maximum. If this plays out then we are spending an awful lot of money in Henley for little value.

“Where there’s scope to do more we need to look at doing that, otherwise we have spent a lot of money on a building that is half used. I know beds might fill it up but not with the right activity. These type of developments take time to be used to the maximum.”

Mr Smith offered to include the steering group in monitoring of the new service.

He said: “We need to make sure we are doing ongoing monitoring and be clear what success looks like in this model.

“The model will be fully implemented probably from next summer so I think a few months after that we should have a formal evaluation on the things it is delivering and what it was supposed to deliver. I’m very happy to involve the steering group on this however they want.”

Mike Delaney, a member of the board, said the transition period between the new hospital opening and the old one closing would need to be carefully monitored.

He said: “It seems very clear to me that the key here is with how the transition is managed. It’s a work in progress but given that we are moving in to an exciting new model we’ve got to accept that we can’t get all our assumptions absolutely correct.

“The transition plan needs to be done at a very granular level. It needs to get to a level of detail that gives us assurances that we are in control of the transition and needs regular milestones built in.”

Speaking after the board meeting, town councillor and steering group chairman Ian Reissmann said: “The meeting went as expected and a number of questions we have previously raised were answered, which shows the influence we have had.

“As far as beds goes, we have failed to achieve our objective of locating them in the hospital.

“However, as a result of the last few months of campaigning, we have improved the commissioning group’s proposals in certain areas. We have also made the group very aware that the deployment of the new model will be carefully monitored and it needs to prepare plans that are robust and deliver what it promises.”

He added: “We have achieved a huge amount over the last 12 years. We have a new hospital being built with all the existing services and some new ones.

“The campus as a whole includes a care home with NHS beds. From where we were 10 years ago, this is a good result.”

Peter Ashby, a member of the steering group and former GP at the Hart Surgery, said: “I’m disappointed. The commissioning group gave no real impression of having listened to us at all. They’ve gone back on what they promised and everything has been downgraded.

“The great thing is we have got a hospital after a long hard fight and I take comfort in that but what’s happening now is quite concerning. If anything goes wrong we could live to regret this.”

Dr Philip Unwin, senior partner at the Hart Surgery, said: “It’s very disappointing not to have the beds but the commissioning group has its reasons. The hospital as a whole is fantastic no question, although the beds situation is disappointing. We’ve got to make it work.”

Henley MP John Howell said having up to 14 beds in the care home was a “good deal”.

“We’ve been negotiating hard over a number of weeks to get the best deal for Townlands that we possibly can and I think we have achieved quite a lot,” he said.

“The decision now is radically different from the one on the table to start with, including extended opening times for the rapid access care unit and outpatient services.

“I think the beds, which will be up to 14, are a good deal. I’ve raised this on tours around South Oxfordshire and people seem enthusiastic.”

A spokeswoman for the Orders of St John of St John Trust said it was in talks with the commissioning group about the beds to be provided in the new home, which will replace the Chilterns End care home in Greys Road.

Health chiefs say they are still looking for a tenant for the empty floor of the new hospital. GPs from the Hart and Bell surgeries are interested in moving in but NHS bosses want to charge rent of £250,000 a year.

A spokesman for NHS Property Services, which owns the Townlands site, said: “Regarding the top floor of the hospital building, no decision has been made and we are still negotiating with prospective tenants.”

@bull;A public meeting of the steering group will be held at the town hall on Wednesday at 7.30pm.

More News:

POLL: Have your say