Ambulance fears over health shakeup

AMBULANCES will be taken off the roads as paramedics are forced to queue up at over-stretched casualty departments to unload patients – should a radical shake-up of the NHS go ahead.

AMBULANCES will be taken off the roads as paramedics are forced to queue up at over-stretched casualty departments to unload patients – should a radical shake-up of the NHS go ahead.

The warning comes from concerned front-line workers who say the loss of 55 beds at the West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, will have a "real effect" on the numbers of vehicles able to answer emergency calls.

They fear a backlog caused by the cost-cutting reductions will trickle-down to the accident and emergency department, resulting in vehicles "stacking up" outside units "for hours on end", unable to transfer patients due to a lack of available beds.

However, hospital officials say the proposed closures, which include that of two surgical theatres and have been designed to rein-in spiralling multi-million pound debts, will have no affect on the casualty department.


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"A main concern is the loss of beds at West Suffolk Hospital and the closure of Walnuttree and Newmarket – which will have a knock-on effect on the ambulance service," said one worker who did not wish to be named. "People are very worried about it.

"Because of a shortage of beds in the main hospitals, there will be a backlog into A&E and consequently ambulance crews will be waiting to unload patients for hours on end, leaving less ambulances on the roads.

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"At the moment it is not unknown for us to wait 90 minutes to unload, as you can already get five or six ambulances waiting outside the hospital.

"The ambulance service is not going to increase the amount of vehicles to compensate for this loss of beds, and these plans to reduce the number dramatically will have a real effect on us."

Kevin Risley, Unison branch secretary for the East Anglian Ambulance, described the planned cuts as "particularly worrying".

"From a Unison point of view, we are always concerned about any suggestion of ward or hospital closures which may take place and the knock-on effect that would have on external services," he said.

"It is particularly worrying that this is coming on the back of the possible closure of the Walnuttree in Sudbury as well.

"I would certainly hope the health authority would enter into very full and frank discussions with trade unions before any plans are put into place."

As part of the proposed cuts, 16 beds will also be withdrawn at Newmarket Hospital and outpatients clinics lost at Thetford.

Sudbury's two hospitals – Walnuttree and St Leonard's – have been earmarked for closure, while 400 jobs are under threat.

A number of other hospitals across the county are also facing an uncertain future, with the threat of closure and bed reductions hanging over them.

However, despite concerns, Matt Ware, spokesman for the ambulance service, said he was "confident that the hospital will continue to provide a first-class A&E service".

He said: "Changes in the way both the hospital and the ambulance service are working to minimize unnecessary admissions and attendance at A&E should ensure that these bed changes do not affect performance in any way."

A spokesman for the hospital said the planned reduction of beds would not affect the casualty department, adding: "We have to ensure that we achieve the target that 98% of people who come to A&E are seen within four hours.

"We are meeting this target and it is one of the seven national priorities. We would not implement anything which would jeopardise our performance in this area.

"The reduction in beds is being phased and will come as a result of new ways of working at the hospital including changing discharge processes, treating patients in our day surgery unit, where appropriate, and planning ahead.

"The hospital has so far closed 12 surgical beds. This has had no impact on A&E. The hospital plans to close a further 11 surgical beds in August."

The hospital trust board will discuss plans for the proposed closure in August.

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