Thursday, 11 August 2022

No shortage of hospital beds despite high demand

HEALTH chiefs say there has been no need to find extra beds for patients at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley despite the existing ones being occupied.

The new hospital has up to 11 beds located in the neighbouring Chilterns Court care centre — seven for intermediate care and four for use by the hospital’s rapid access care unit.

Another three on-demand beds can be “spot-purchased” when they are needed but these may not be located in Henley, despite a pledge in 2015 that there would be eight beds in the Orders of St John care centre and another six on demand.

A meeting of the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group last week heard that spot-purchasing is carried out on a countywide basis and that extra beds are only bought when the other facilities in Oxfordshire are full.

This means that Henley patients who require a bed when the care home is full may have to travel as far as Wallingford or Abingdon for an empty bed.

Figures show that the seven intermediate care beds, which can be used for patients coming from other hospitals, have been full since the care centre opened in November.

Several patients from the care unit have used the other four other beds. Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the service, says no patients have been denied beds as they were given either an intermediate care bed when one became available or a care unit bed.

Rachel McQuilliam, communications manager for the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said extra beds were only spot-purchased when none was available throughout the county and the location was then decided based on where demand is highest.

She said: “The spot purchase of additional intermediate care beds at Chilterns Court would be based on a system-wide view of rehabilitation bed availability.

“To date it has not been necessary to instigate the purchase of additional ICBs at Chilterns Court as capacity has been available elsewhere in the system. This was either in a community hospital setting or alternative location in the south of the county.

“The option to spot purchase additional ICBs at Chilterns Court remains open.”

She said the seven intermediate care beds had experienced a high level of occupancy since opening. “Predominantly these beds have been utilised for patients ‘stepping down’ from a spell in an acute hospital,” said Ms McQuilliam.

“Four other beds are aligned to the care unit with the intention that patients from Henley and the surroundings area can be cared for closer to home and avoid the need for admission to an acute hospital.

“These beds have not experienced the same high level of occupancy.

“It is a commitment of the commissioning group for care to be delivered closer to home when appropriate and therefore the utilisation of the beds at Chilterns Court is being closely monitored and will continue to be so.

“If activity levels indicate that four care unit beds is insufficient to meet demand this would also be factored into a countywide picture to determine if Chilterns Court was the most appropriate location to spot purchase additional capacity.”

Ian Reissmann, chairman of the Townlands Steering Group, said the way the beds were spot-purchased meant there was a risk that patients might have to travel to hospitals further from home.

He said: “This is undesirable but inevitable when capacity is near full. The greater the capacity locally, the less likely Henley patients end up in Bicester.”

The meeting also heard that there were more than 150 delayed transfers of care across Oxfordshire as of March 16.

The transfers, also known as “bed-blocking”, relate to patients who are ready to leave hospital but are unable to do so as their follow-up care is not in place.

In Oxfordshire, there were 94 delayed transfers from Oxford University Hospitals and five from the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

The meeting heard that some delayed transfers were caused by the lack of adult social care provision to look after people leaving hospital.

Mr Reissmann said: “Everyone is aware of the unprecedented pressures on adult social care across the country. The ambulatory care model of the care unit is dependent on patient throughput in order to avoid the system being clogged up with patients who no longer need a bed but are unable to access the services needed in order to be discharged to the home.”

l The approximate waiting time at the minor injuries unit at Townlands Hospital is 45 minutes. The unit has seen more than 5,000 patients since April last year with 98 per cent seen and treated within the four-hour target period.

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