Fears over hospital cutbacks

CONCERNS have been raised about a hospital's ability to cope with fewer beds as figures show inpatient numbers have risen by nearly 3,500 in the last four years.

CONCERNS have been raised about a hospital's ability to cope with fewer beds as figures show inpatient numbers have risen by nearly 3,500 in the last four years.

The number of people admitted at Ipswich Hospital has increased from 56,784 in 2001-2 to 60,211 this year.

The hospital has also been on "blue lights only" - when it only had the capacity to deal with the most serious emergencies - more than 20 times since last September, with some spells lasting more than 24 hours.

Health bosses confirmed last week that it would be cutting up to 80 beds at the hospital as the trust battles with a crippling £11.6million deficit.

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Healthcare cuts in community hospitals and Government targets have intensified fears that Ipswich Hospital could suffer under the pressure.

Cornelius Coates, chairman of the Ipswich Primary Care Trust Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) forum, said non-emergency patients would have to wait longer if the hospital could not cope.

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He said: "It is of concern that, because of the nature of the deficit, the service has become driven by financial concerns rather than patient need.

"Obviously the trust is deeply in debt and that is a priority as I gather there are no more resources available to them.

"It seems quite evident to me if patient numbers have been increasing then how is the hospital going to cope if it is going to reduce the number of beds?

"There has to be this provision in the community and patient access to the facilities before any reduction in beds if it is going to take the pressure off the hospital. The two things need to be in kilter."

In the last four years the number of inpatients admitted to Ipswich Hospital has only dropped in one year, 2002-3, when the numbers reduced by 775. The biggest rise was between 2003-4 and 2004-5 at 2,302.

Lorene Baker, member of the Ipswich Hospital PPI group, said the hospital's capacity was already up in the 90-per-cents.

She said: "I think that the hospital is going to be under great pressure to cope. With 80 fewer beds and a theatre closing waiting lists must grow.

"We are shocked and saddened at the drastic cuts. Like one of the members said, the hospital is between a rock and a hard place."

She blamed the Government for the situation and asked people to write to health secretary Patricia Hewitt demanding more time and help to pay back the debts.

Christine Smart, trust chairman, said that patient safety would always be a priority at the hospital.

"Making sure that safe care is provided to patients at all times is a priority for the board and we are considering all of the proposals against this background of patient safety," she said.

"Nationally the NHS is changing the way care is provided - with more care delivered closer to home.

"We are working together with our NHS and social care partners to ensure that the services people need are in place so that people who are in our acute hospital and are well enough to leave, are able to do so more quickly."

Chris Mole, the Labour MP for Ipswich, said the rising numbers of people presenting themselves to the accident and emergency department, perhaps unnecessarily, had created the budgetary pressure.

He added that bed numbers on their own were "not necessarily a reason for concern".

"People should not speculate about what the implications might be because if the objective is to treat people differently and in the community then that's something that can only be welcomed," he said.

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