Anger at new threat to 300 community hospital beds in North Staffordshire
HUNDREDS of community hospital beds are to be reviewed after claims they are preventing more people being cared for at home.
The new threat comes just four months after the health trust running the 300 beds in North Staffordshire denied any would be closing.
The issue has been re-ignited by University Hospital of North Staffordshire chief executive Julia Bridgewater, pictured, who says the area's health service is too heavily reliant on the community beds.
Now both the beds in the five community hospitals and the 1,100-plus at the University Hospital will be examined to see if they are being used to their full potential.
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The University Hospital has just had to re-commission 80 of its own beds planned for closure because of an unprecedented demand for admissions.
Latest figures show 2,097 patients were admitted to beds at the University Hospital in August, 2011, compared with 2,519 patients this August.
The community hospitals are at Leek, Cheadle, Longton, Bradwell and at Haywood Hospital, in Burslem.
Mrs Bridgewater said: "Many people think having 300 beds in community hospitals is a good thing. But other places don't have nearly as many and so can invest money instead into primary care to keep people at home safely. They have also had more success in avoiding hospital admissions.
"North Staffordshire's health community is very bed based and we need to look at numbers and how we use beds both at UHNS and in the community to get the right outcomes. All evidence shows people recover more quickly at home than in hospital.
"Some things done to try to avoid admissions have not worked or not kept pace with examples elsewhere."
Mrs Bridgewater's comments today sparked fury from health campaigners.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch, said: "We have to rely on these beds because not enough staff and expertise have been moved out of the hospital into the community.
"We cannot now close them on a wing and a prayer, hoping the community will take up the slack. It is ridiculous that £1 billion of NHS money a year is spent in North Staffordshire yet they are telling us they still can't cope. This is not about bed numbers – it's about slick working."
Earlier this year, management consultants reported that the area is 'over-provided' with community beds.
Geraint Griffiths, deputy chief executive of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent partnership NHS trust running the hospitals, said: "A revised specification to our five community hospitals and community teams is being worked on and we expect to see an increase in the amount of care provided in the community in the coming years."
The area's two NHS funding bodies have agreed care is too reliant on beds.
A spokesman said: "We have a fantastic new hospital but too many patients are admitted who with the right steps and services in place could be treated in the community."