Holsworthy prepares for a fight to save community hospital beds

By Zoë Uglow in Local People

IT HAS been confirmed that Holsworthy Community Hospital’s inpatient beds will close temporarily due to concerns over high agency nurse use, low bed occupancy and staff sickness.

But the MP for Torridge and West Devon warns there is a ‘strong possibility’ the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) will not restore beds.

Staff members at Holsworthy Hospital were told in a private meeting on Thursday, March 2, that the temporary closure would take effect from March 31.

The Trust said the hospital is ‘to close temporarily under urgent measures, due to significant safety concerns’.

However, all other services at the hospital, including consultant outpatient appointments and day services, will continue as normal.

Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox spoke to the Trust, which told him ‘the need for community hospital beds has significantly decreased and that there are considerable problems in recruiting staff for Holsworthy Hospital’.

In response to the announcement and his findings from the Trust, Mr Cox has said he believes ‘there must, therefore, be a strong possibility that the Trust will not restore those beds’.

In a statement, NDHT explained that its decision to temporarily close beds at Holsworthy Hospital is separate to the work of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) and will have no impact on the ‘Your Future Care’ consultation.

The decision was taken by the board of Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust and was endorsed by the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and management team of the STP.

The Trust gave three reasons for the decision of temporary closure, they were: Sustained reliance on agency staff to cover staff sickness and keep hospitals open; Recruitment difficulties due to national skills shortages; Decreasing bed occupancy and not all beds being used.

Mr Cox said: “I have been informed that the NDDH Trust has decided, because of what have been described to me as ‘staff difficulties’, to close temporarily the inpatient beds at Holsworthy Hospital. I have also been informed by the Trust that its policy is to provide care for those discharged from acute hospitals in their own homes wherever possible, that the need for community hospital beds has significantly decreased and that there are considerable problems in recruiting staff for Holsworthy Hospital. There must, therefore, be a strong possibility that the Trust will not restore those beds.”

Mr Cox has assured the public he will take action and voice his concerns over this decision to the Trust, he said: “I have informed the Trust that I am unconvinced by the case for the closure of inpatient facilities at Holsworthy Hospital and I have urged that no permanent and irrevocable decision should be made before the consequences have been fully examined and the community has been fully consulted.

“I met the Secretary of State for Health and raised with him my serious concerns over the withdrawal of community beds in Torridge and West Devon and I shall be meeting the chief executive of the Trust shortly to discuss this issue of very real importance to local communities.”

Explaining the Trust’s reasoning behind the decision to temporarily close the inpatient beds at Holsworthy Hospital, Andy Ibbs, director of operations and strategy for the Trust, said: “We have a duty to our patients to ensure that there are enough nurses on shift to care for them while in hospital and that those nurses have the necessary skills to deliver high-quality care.

“We have exhausted every possible solution and we are now in a position where we cannot effectively sustain inpatient services at Holsworthy. We have also had to put measures in place to support services at South Molton.

“We know this will be disappointing for the local community and we share their sadness over this temporary closure. We have worked really hard to address these risks and have made every effort to recruit and retain staff as well as develop other options.

“Both community hospitals are supported by staff from NDDH where possible but this is risking our acute inpatient services and we must focus our clinical resource where patients most need it.”

In response to NDHT’s announcement, Holsworthy once again banded together and at short notice pulled together a protect on Friday, March 3, to show their support for the hospital and its staff.

The mayor of Holsworthy, Cllr Jon Hutchings, said: “Considering we pulled the event together at very short notice it was very well supported, it really shows the passion Holsworthy has to support and save its hospital.

“I think everyone, including myself, is shocked and disgusted at the decision. Shocked about them even doing it in the first place and disgusted about the way they appear to be accusing the staff of running a hospital in unsafe conditions.”

In response to Andy Ibbs’ comments, Cllr Hutchings said: “I think it’s quite strange really that he says they have ‘exhausted every possible solution’, I don’t think that is at all true.

“I don’t put much faith in what they say as I see it as a very back door approach. I believe it was understood that staff from Okehampton Hospital would be transferred to Holsworthy once the Okehampton hospital closes. As I see it this would have been another ‘possible solution’ to combat the issue of staff shortages. This isn’t going to happen now.”

The Trust has said that it is working with NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS NEW Devon CCG) to ‘develop a model of care that will enable [them] to continue meeting people’s care needs across North Devon and Torridge within the resources available’.

It has suggested that the future could be a new ‘care at home’ model, with people being cared for at home by loved ones and care staff instead of taking up community beds.

The Trust has published dates for a series of engagement events. These events, they say, will provide an ‘opportunity for people to understand more about the rationale behind our decision and express any concerns or anxieties they might have’.

Drop-in sessions will be held in Holsworthy Community Hospital on Monday, March 20, from 10.30am to 1pm and on Thursday, March 30, from 9.30am to 12pm.

It is necessary to book a slot for these drop in sessions. To book email ndht.Communications@nhs.net or call 01271 322460.

There will then be two sessions of public meetings in Holsworthy Memorial Hall on Thursday, March 23, from 3pm to 4.30pm and from 6pm to 7.30pm.

Cllr Hutchings informed the Post of a separate meeting that has been set up by the town council. Unlike the other meetings Dr Alison Diamond, chief executive for Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, has confirmed her attendance and will be on hand to answer any questions about the temporary closures.

The town council is urging the public to attend the meeting on Wednesday, March 15, starting at 7pm in the Memorial Hall. They ask that people bring along questions to ask or if anyone would rather not speak they can pass any questions to the town council prior to the meeting to be read out.

Cllr Hutchings said: “They wanted a private meeting about the STP, we said no we want a public meeting in Holsworthy about our hospital. I want to see a good show of people at this meeting, this is the one we really have to come together for and show our support for the hospital, its staff and our community!

“I spoke with Alison Diamond on the phone last week and asked her if they will re-open the hospital, she told me she couldn’t answer that and I think it’s because the answer is no they don’t want to reopen it. At the end of the day I believe they have already made their decision, but we in Holsworthy won’t back down, we need to demonstrate that we won’t go down without a fight to save our hospital once again!”

Residents in Holsworthy have set up an online petition, so far it has over 1,000 supporters.

To sign the petition visit the website www.change.org/p/doctor-john-womersley-save-holsworthy-hospital

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