Objectors pleaded with NHS bosses to ‘keep our beds open’, during a packed and passionate public meeting last night to discuss the fate of inpatient services in Rothbury.
Around 300 people crowded into the village’s Jubilee Hall, where they were told that the future of the 12-bed facility at the Community Hospital would be decided after a formal consultation period.
On September 2, the unit was temporarily closed for three months after it was found to be ‘under-used’, which led to a review of the service by NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
At last night’s meeting, the CCG revealed the ward would remain closed while the formal consultation took place, which will start in December and could take up to 12 weeks.
Dr Alistair Blair, chief clinical officer for the CCG, said that the consultation would only be to determine ‘the best use of the beds’ and that the NHS wanted to work with the community about ‘solutions that work’. He added that there had been no discussions about shutting the hospital.
But the strength of feeling in the community was clear and emotions ran high during the public-question session of the meeting.
Katie Scott, of the Save Rothbury Hospital campaign group, spoke passionately about the issue, sparking applause and cheers from people in the room.
She said: “We want to keep the hospital beds.
“We’ve listened to the outcome of your review and heard your belief that beds are under-occupied and are still not required. We challenge this conclusion and believe you have not tried to maximise their use.
“We support an innovative integrated practice/community and ward-based nursing team that could make a small unit viable.
“We propose a move away from complex contracts, as such contracts actually deter patient transfer back to community hospitals. Rather, we support better patient-centred models, based on safe discharges from hospital, diversions from acute admission, rehabilitation goals and support at home.
“We support making the most of services at Rothbury to get best value for the large long-term PFI contract on the new building.
“We believe that we need, and will continue to need, beds for people who require rehabilitation, beds for those at the end of their life and beds to stop admissions to the acute hospitals.
“Look to the future, talk with us and please, keep our beds open.”
After the meeting, she said that she was pleased with the turn-out at the session and that the campaign group is ‘pleased that the CCG appears to be prepared to listen to us and we will be working hard now to come up with viable ideas to save our beds’.
Rothbury county councillor Steven Bridgett said: “The handling of the closure of this healthcare resource within our community by the CCG and Northumbria Healthcare Trust has been nothing short of appalling.
“You appeared to think it unimportant to consult the community regarding this closure, temporary or not. You sent out a press release that morning (September 2), before closing it at 5pm that very same night.
“You have skirted around national legislation and utilised the grey areas within it to take advantage of the fact that legally you are not required to consult us at the start of this exercise.”
During the meeting, concerns were also raised about patient care during the winter and there were calls to reopen the unit while a new model was being investigated.
Following the temporary suspension of the unit in September, the CCG undertook a comprehensive review of inpatient activity. The review looked at activity in the ward prior to the suspension, taking into consideration hospital bed usage, community services and social-care data.
The CCG says that the data showed that inpatient bed occupancy has been very low since 2013, alongside a notable increase in the use of local community services.
In the period 2015 to 2016, 53 per cent of the beds at Rothbury were occupied and community nursing contacts peaked at 7,629 in the period from October 2015 to September 2016.
The CCG says that the operational decision to suspend inpatient services at Rothbury was found to be based on accurate usage data and the review states that patient care had not been compromised as a result of the suspension.
The CCG says that the low usage of the hospital’s inpatient ward is due both to the increase in patients being cared for in their own homes and changes in hospital care for patients having operations or requiring emergency admissions. As a result, patients are spending much less time in hospital.
Dr Blair said: “The fact that the bed occupancy rate in Rothbury has been so low, for such a long time, simply cannot be ignored. This is particularly so when considered alongside the pressures experienced elsewhere in the NHS and Northumberland’s healthcare system and the need to ensure that effort is concentrated where patients need it most.
“The CCG’s aim is always to make sure patients receive the treatment and ongoing care at the most appropriate and safest place for their individual needs, however, it also has to consider the most sustainable ways of delivering this in the future.
“We wholeheartedly understand the concerns recently raised but the fact inpatient beds have been so under-used is a result of significant improvements in the levels of care that can now be delivered at home.
“We would like to reassure the people in Rothbury that no permanent decision has been made on the future of the inpatient ward and we look forward to the forthcoming formal consultation which will give local people another opportunity to comment.
“Consultation details will be published as soon as they become available and I would encourage everyone to have their say. As we move forward, local views will continue to be very important to the CCG.”
Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she had been collating feedback from the community about what residents felt would be the best use of the beds. She said she was in regular contact with the health minister about the issue.
She added: “My opinion is that Northumberland’s funding for healthcare is, and has been for a long time, far below what it should be and we need a better way of delivering it fairly. The feedback I have got from the community and the fact that there is a public consultation have given me the weapons I need to fight for what we need here.”
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