33% Fewer Hospital Beds!

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‘WE ARE concerned that the implementation of the Health & Social Care Act risks the fragmentation of patient care highlighted in this report,’ Paul Flynn, Deputy Chair of the BMA’s Consultants Committee, said yesterday.

He was responding to the report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Hospitals on the edge? The time for action.

This highlights that there are a third fewer general and acute hospital beds now than there were 25 years ago, yet the last decade alone has seen a 37 per cent increase in emergency admissions.

The RCP said: ‘This is coupled with a change in patients’ needs. Nearly two thirds (65%) of people admitted to hospital are over 65 years old, and an increasing number are frail or have a diagnosis of dementia.

‘However, all too often hospital buildings, services and staff are not equipped to deal with those with multiple, complex needs including dementia.

‘This is having detrimental effects on patient care.’

Dr Flynn added: ‘The BMA welcomes this report which describes an emerging crisis familiar to our members. We have long advocated that the quality of patient care should be the prime concern in service redesign.’

RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dr Peter Carter said: ‘This report sets out very clearly something which nurses are aware of every day.

‘Hospitals having fewer beds may not be an issue on its own, but if support is not there to keep patients well in the community then it becomes a very serious problem.

‘It is also worrying that the rise in patients with multiple and complex conditions is often not matched by a rise in the number of skilled staff to care for them.

‘Particularly on wards for older people, staffing levels have not kept pace with demand, and this causes distress to both staff and patients.

‘It is the wrong time to cut staff and penny-pinch in community care, and we would urge all trusts to maintain investment to keep patients well.’

Epsom and St Helier Unison branch secretary Kevin O’Brien told News Line: ‘The government tries to pretend there are better services but there’s not the resources.

‘There aren’t enough beds in district general hospitals. This causes the elderly in particular to be pushed from pillar to post.

‘There should be no reduction in beds. The reduction in beds has been too fast and now we have a crisis.

‘It’s about money. When you have the NHS run as a business, cost comes before care.

‘What is happening is they are not just cutting beds, they are closing wards, which leads to a reduction in nursing and medical staff. We are trying to resist this.

‘They are closing A&Es. It’s time the trade unions woke up and take action, and give good leadership.’

• The BMA has also warned in a new briefing paper that regionally negotiated pay and conditions would undermine the national ethos of the NHS, waste resources, and could make it harder for some areas to recruit high-quality staff.

Twenty NHS trusts in the South West have formed a consortium which is seeking to break away from nationally negotiated contracts. Its proposals include cutting pay, increasing hours, and reducing protected time in which consultants can work on non-clinical activities to improve quality.

Dr Mark Porter, Chair of Council at the BMA, said: ‘If this initiative is allowed to go ahead, other regions are likely to follow suit, taking us further away from a truly national health service.

‘We do not want to see a skills drain away from certain areas of the country, particularly in more remote regions.

‘This is a distraction from serious attempts to address the massive financial challenges facing the NHS. Instead of wasting resources on short-term measures for which there is no evidence, and that will only serve to demoralise staff, we should focus on ways to genuinely improve efficiency and quality.’

The briefing paper also warns that a move away from national contracts for doctors could increase regional variations in clinical quality.