Friday, 16 November 2018

Beds full as hospital care unit finally opens

ONLY one of the 11 beds reserved for the new rapid access care unit at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley was available this week, when the unit opened.

Patients referred from the Royal Berkshire Hospital and Oxford University Hospitals are using 10 of the beds, which are located in the neighbouring Chilterns Court Care Centre but intended for use by the unit.

The figures were revealed at a meeting of the Townlands Stakeholders Reference Group in Henley on Tuesday.

Christine Hewitt, head of urgent care at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said the beds at the home had opened before Christmas and patients were being seen by doctors from Bell and Hart Surgeries as well as staff at the unit.

The care home has eight permanent beds for use by the unit, with another three that can be accessed “on demand”.

A further three on-demand beds will have be “spot purchased” when they are needed, meaning that patients might have to go to hospitals in Wallingford or Abingdon. There is also one respite bed, which can be used by people such as carers taking a break from looking after a relative.

Mrs Hewitt said: “Patients are referred by the Royal Berks and Oxford University Hospital into step-down beds.

“We have seven beds under the GPs and four beds primarily managed by the medics at the unit. However, if the doctors are doing their rounds and see patients needing support they will do that.

“The medics from the unit will also come to the intermediate beds should they need support or the GPs need help.”

Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said that while he was happy the beds were being used, it could cause a problem when patients began to be referred from the care unit.

He said: “It currently leaves one bed for the unit and I would certainly hope that preference is being given to RG9 people as one of the benefits of all this is that people don’t have to trek through the traffic to Reading and deal with the parking at the Royal Berks.

“I would expect that as the unit gets going there will be demand for those beds and it looks like they will need those other three beds too.

“Once those 11 beds, plus the three spot beds, are full the Royal Berks and others will have to find step-down beds elsewhere.

“At the end of the day that is the challenge the NHS is dealing with on a daily basis: who gets what bed.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, said: “The pressure of delayed transfers of care across Oxfordshire and Berkshire means the new beds have been immediately filled and patients at the care unit aren’t going to have them available, which is a problem.

“The reason the steering group and the community worried about the failure to replace the Peppard ward beds is that we felt the need for beds was greater than the commissioning group was planning for.

“The figures we have after one day of the unit being open shows that those concerns appear to be real.

“They claim they will do spot purchases for up to three beds, which may or may not be in Henley.

“The risk of the new service is that people who need a bed from the unit won’t have it available and the unit is going to find it very difficult to operate without those beds.

“It’s early days and the picture is still emerging. We want the unit to work but we have concerns.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who sits on both the steering group and the reference group, said: “Because 10 of the 11 beds are already full it vindicates the campaign by the steering group and Henley Town Council to make sure more beds were provided than originally offered to us.

“In fact, the analysis from the commissioning group was that they would only need three.

“The concern is if they are full now with the care unit only just open where are patients from the unit going to go? We may need even more beds, as many as the 18 stripped from Peppard ward.”

The rapid access care unit was originally due to open in March but this was delayed by the need to convert the first floor, which was built according to the original plans for an 18-bed ward.

It offers 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.

Patients can be referred to the unit by their GPs but none visited on the first day.

Mrs Hewitt said: “I’m hoping we get patients through the door very soon but it’s very reliant on the GPs and them funding the right patients.

“At the moment I’m not concerned. It’s exactly what happened with the emergency multidisciplinary units in Witney and Abingdon and once it builds up momentum it’s hard to stop.”

Mrs Hewitt said she would “push” medical services to refer to the unit over the next week, including the ambulance service and district nurses.

The reference group meeting also heard there had been no interest in the empty second floor at the hospital.

The hospital was still being built when Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal to relocate its hospice in Nettlebed to Townlands in December 2014. The building was completed in February and opened to patients in March.

Health chiefs previously said they would like the town’s two GP surgeries to move in but negotiations over rent believed to be around £250,000 a year failed to produce a deal.

Roger Dickinson, who chairs the group, said: “To my knowledge we have had no nibbles yet for anyone who wants to do anything. We are concerned because we are paying for it.”

In August, the Henley Standard revealed that the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which is in charge of services at the hospital, was paying “void costs” of almost £500,000 to NHS Property Services, which has a lease on the building, while the floor was empty.

The payments started when the hospital opened in March, with the commissioning group paying £74,000 in the first month before declaring the floor “surplus to requirements”.

It said it expected to pay another £492,000 until the start of next month, when its liability for the space will expire.

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