Beds axed and ward closed at hospital

By Rebecca SheppardHEALTH bosses have denied the future of a community hospital was in doubt as they cut one third of its beds.One ward at St Peter's Hospital, Maldon, is to be shut - a move that will axe 16 beds from the existing 50.

By Rebecca Sheppard

HEALTH bosses have denied the future of a community hospital was in doubt as they cut one third of its beds.

One ward at St Peter's Hospital, Maldon, is to be shut - a move that will axe 16 beds from the existing 50.

The Maldon and South Chelmsford Primary Care Trust said the closure was not financially motivated, but was a temporary move designed to “streamline the wards”.


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It said an improvement in the treatment of patients, which has seen the average length of stay at St Peter's Hospital halve in the past 12 months from more than 40 days to 20, had decreased demand for beds at the site and it was now “normal” for the hospital to be running with empty beds.

Although the closure of Birch ward was expected to make the hospital more efficient, it would remain available for immediate use should demand surge, the trust pledged.

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John Collins, the trust's director of primary and community services, said it was more efficient to run two wards, with 34 beds, than three.

“This move is testimony to the success we have been achieving in our efforts to minimise the amount of time people spend in hospital, though I should stress that Birch ward is being retained as a hospital ward and can be reutilised immediately should the need arise,” he said.

“We now start planning patients' discharge from the moment they arrive at St Peter's. This avoids unnecessary delays in the latter stages of their rehabilitation because we have been able to liase with and mobilise social services and our district nursing team from an early point.”

The Birch ward currently provides convalescent beds for patients who have either had an operation at Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsfpord, and are recuperating or who do not need acute care.

The trust announced last month the out-of-hours minor injuries unit at St Peter's Hospital could be set to close. It was set up two years ago, but use of its facilities has remained low.

It is now conducting a public consultation into the unit's proposed closure, which the trust said could save about £250,000 a year.

John Whittingdale, MP for Maldon and East Chelmsford, said: “It's a fact that the trust is in some financial difficulty and running a deficit and that has to influence their attitude to the services that they provide.

“I am seeing the chairman and chief executive of the trust on Friday and I will want to talk to them about all their financial details.

“Maldon and South Chelmsford has less per capita funding than other primary care trusts in Essex. It is one of the reasons why we have reached this position and I will certainly make the case for fairer funding.”

Mr Whittingdale said St Peter's Hospital was “very important” and had enormous public support.

But he added: “It is in a building that is in many ways unsuitable. There is a definite need for relocation, but I would be horrified at any suggestion that Maldon would lose its community hospital.”

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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