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Health expert says new NHS plan could 'put patients at risk'

A health policy expert from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) believes a five-year plan by the NHS to save money by cutting beds in Leicestershire is likely to put the safety of patients at risk.

Dr Sally Ruane, deputy director of the health policy research policy unit at DMU, said the proposal – which involves the closure of more than 280 beds across Leicestershire and Rutland - will mean more pressure on services, loss of staff, longer travel times for patients and a demoralisation of the remaining workforce.

NHS 1

Local NHS leaders who, created the sustainability and transformation plan (STP), said carrying out its proposals will save £412 million a year from the regional budget.

But after studying the plan, Dr Ruane has compiled a report which concludes that the proposals are “unfit for purpose” and that they will achieve “neither improved health outcomes nor the financial savings it claims it will make”.

Under the STP, hundreds of acute beds at Leicester General Hospital will be lost.

In addition, Rutland Memorial Hospital, in Oakham, St Mary’s birthing Centre, in Melton Mowbray and Fielding Palmer Community Hospital in Lutterworth will all close. The bed provision at Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital will also be halved.

GPs will be encouraged to work more closely together and with other health services and there will be a growing emphasis on providing care in patients’ own homes.

But Dr Ruane said these cuts could lead to a poorer standard of care for patients.

NHS 2

She said: “A danger will be posed to the safety of patients if hospital beds are closed when there continues to be a need for them. 

“Having too few beds would create further delays for some patients awaiting planned care and waiting times have already increased in recent years.

“If there are delays in finding a bed for a patient admitted in an emergency the danger could be greater.”

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She said the STP was primarily finance-driven and that such cost-cutting would likely lead to a deterioration in the quality of services given to patients. She also pointed out that putting the plan into practice would not be as simple as it appeared.

“Our local hospitals have been trying to reduce the number of beds in the past two years or so but this has proved impossible and in fact the number of beds has risen,” she said.

“This is despite an increase in community based services which are supposed to take the pressure off the hospitals.”

While Dr Ruane welcomed the implementation of successful community and home-based services, she warned that assessing their success took time and recommended ‘double-running’ existing services for long enough to be able to establish the impact of the new services.

HEALTH 3

Overall, she recommended a much more cautious approach than that suggested in the five-year STP.

She said: “The service needs to be properly funded if it is to be safe. Shifting more care into community settings requires extra investment at least in the short and medium terms and may well not be cheaper beyond that.

“We need to deal with the blockages in the NHS. If the services are not adequately funded, bottlenecks and blockages occur – for example, difficulties getting to see a GP, longer waiting times, staff shortages.

“In my opinion, the government needs to review tariffs paid to hospitals – that is the amount of money given to a hospital to conduct a particular procedure. These need to be realistic.

“It also needs to restore the bursaries which for nurses and others and expand training places for doctors, nurses and other NHS professionals.

“These students provide staffing for busy NHS services and this will help tackle future workforce blockages. That would also be a support to the labour market and good for the economy.

“Other comparably rich countries spend much more on their health services. We don’t need to spend much less.”

Posted on Monday 13th March 2017

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