Monday, 26 July 2021

Townlands unit still not ready

THE new rapid access care unit designed to replace the beds at Townlands Hospital may never open,

THE new rapid access care unit designed to replace the beds at Townlands Hospital may never open, claim campaigners.

It comes after the openingwas delayed for a fourth time because there have been no applications for the role of clinical lead for the unit, which will provide services including antibiotic treatment and transfusions.

The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which is in charge of services at the new £10million hospital, has blamed the problem on a national shortage of doctors and is considering a temporary alternative.

It says the facility cannot open until a consultant has been appointed and trained. The successful candidate may also need to serve a notice period, which could be up to three months.

In April, the Henley Standard reported that the unit would not open until August 1 “at the earliest” after the commissioning group confirmed it had not filled the position. The latest delay means it might not open before the end of the year — 12 months later than originally planned.

The unit is meant to replace the 14 beds at the old hospital and will run alongside eight beds at the neighbouring Orders of St John care home, which is still being built.

Alternatives to the clinical lead will be discussed at a meeting of the Townlands Stakeholders Reference Group next month. These could include the unit being run by a nursing team rather than a consultant.

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, accused the commissioning group of showing “no urgency” in the recruitment of a lead.

He said: “In September, when the commissioning group approved the decision to have the care unit rather than beds, it said the unit was going to open in December.

“In February we were given a plan that said it was going to open on May 1 but I haven’t seen an update on that plan since then.

“There are two questions: why have they left it so late and what alternative  arrangements are they going to go through?

“I want to know if they are still committed to opening the unit and will they set a date?

“The community should rightly be concerned by the commissioning group’s failure to deliver this replacement service — we were promised the beds would be replaced by this unit.

“There is little in the way of communication and no urgency in getting it opened and doing its job. They should have shown much greater urgency in recruiting a clinical lead who could then hire their own team.

“They left that too late and now it has not opened on time. The care home beds are due to open in September but currently there won’t be anything from the care unit flowing in to them.

“I’m concerned that the rapid access care unit may never open and I think the public deserves an authoritative answer from the commissioning group on if and when it is going to open the service.”

Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said: “This situation is most undesirable. It’s a prestigious building, it’s expensive, and we want it to be used at 100 per cent capacity.

“Everyone in the NHS would like to see it full and certainly everyone in Henley would.”

A spokesman for the commissioning group said: “We remain committed to securing a consultant-led rapid access care unit service and have worked hard to ensure that an attractive job description has been developed which has been fully approved by the Royal College of Physicians.

“There is, however, a national shortage of doctors which is impacting on our ability to recruit.

“Unfortunately, we have had no applications. In light of this, we have met to discuss alternative options which could be put in place in the short term, pending a further recruitment drive.

“These options are being worked up and will be presented to the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group at its next meeting in July.”

The new hospital was completed in February and opened to patients in March.

However, two floors of the hospital are still empty as the care unit is not operational and a tenant for the top floor has not been found after Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal in December 2014.

The Bell and Hart surgeries in Henley are still interested in a move to the floor but have not agreed a deal.

Meanwhile, an independent chairman for the stakeholders group could be appointed at next month’s meeting. Three people have applied for the post and interviews could be held before the meeting at Henley town hall.

The group was branded “secretive” and “tokenistic” for meeting behind closed doors before agreeing to hold alternate meetings in public.

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