NHS care bill may increase by £20m
HEALTH care in North Staffordshire will be left bankrupt unless thousands more people are treated for long-term illnesses at home rather than in hospital, according to NHS experts.
Failures to transfer enough services from the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) to the community are already leaving budgets overstretched.
Now leaders overseeing the changes are warning the extra costs of keeping the existing system will soar to £20 million a year by 2017.
And they said doctors, nurses and other staff accustomed to working at the Hartshill complex will also have to move out with the patients.
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The area's new GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – due to take over the NHS in April – have pledged to drive through the transformation, which campaigners say should have happened a decade ago.
Hugh Evans, director of the Fit For The Future programme, said: "If five years on we are not doing things radically differently we will need to spend £20 million more a year.
"That is money we don't have so the only alternative is to find different ways of working. We can't carry on using so many resources to treat people in the acute hospital sector at the expense of community services.
"There are a lot of good people in the workforce but they are not based in the right place."
The warning comes as the A&E department at UHNS has seen an 11.6 percent rise in patients, to leave some waiting 10 hours for a bed.
But doctors say many of them have long-term illnesses such as chest illnesses, heart disease and diabetes, which should have been kept in check by relocating care closer to their homes.
The Fit for the Future plans were drawn up nearly 10 years ago to ease pressure on the UHNS and help it close hundreds of beds ready for the smaller £400 million superhospital redevelopment to open last March.
Then, when too few services were moved into community settings, 80 beds had to be re-opened at vast expense to leave the trust's annual budget £27 million overspent.
Mr Evans said research showed old and vulnerable people lived longer and enjoyed better health with family support around them than if they lived alone.
He said: "The whole local health economy's challenge is therefore to use community services to re-create that kind of family network for everyone who needs it and keep people well and out of hospital.
"The public sees the default position being the big hospital on the hill with its A&E department because they know they will get their problems sorted there.
"But if people have only minor injuries that is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut."
Ian Syme, co-ordinator pressure group North Staffordshire Healthwatch said: "Ten years have been wasted in activating this programme but we are where we are.
"So it is now urgent to make work the system first proposed in the 1990s with highly responsive, high quality community services operating 24/7."
Dr David Hughes, accountable officer for North Staffordshire CCG, said: "We are determined to do things differently than in the past."