OAPs treated like 'bodies in beds'

A PENSIONERS' pressure group claimed last night health chiefs were treating older people as no more than "bodies in beds" in the wake of a decision to shut a hospital ward.

A PENSIONERS' pressure group claimed last night health chiefs were treating older people as no more than "bodies in beds" in the wake of a decision to shut a hospital ward.

They said the decision to slash 33 high dependency beds at the West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, over the next three months would leave frail and elderly patients facing major anxiety while new places for them are found.

And although health bosses say the move will allow more older people to return to their own homes or receive care within the community, questions have been raised over whether sufficient nursing or residential provision exists.

Pam O'Garvaigh, chairman and co-ordinator of pensioners' pressure group Forum 55 Plus, said: "It seems older people just do not exist except as bodies in a bed.

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"The only people who did not know anything about this closure are those affected. I have been talking to a lot of older people about this and everybody is very concerned.

"This will cause a lot of worry. The people currently in hospital need to know where they are going. Places outside have got to be found quickly, which is something social services have been working on for over a year. How enough provision will be found in three months is a worry all round.

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"The West Suffolk Hospital does not seem to have taken on board the fact that the population of Bury is getting older. There will be more older people, but we don't know what is going to happen to them when they get sick."

Bosses at West Suffolk also decided to close a second ward, F10, during a meeting on Friday as part of a plan to reduce the number of high dependency beds as a whole. They said better rehabilitation could be provided within the community.

But Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said sufficient places must be secured for the patients prior to the closures, which will take place within the next three months, to ensure the transition is as stress-free as possible.

"Taking elderly people out of hospital as fast as possible is a principle I am entirely in favour of, as these are dangerous places for frail people to be, in terms of infection," she said.

"But because these are high-dependency, frail people, transfer needs to be handled with the utmost possible care.

"We need to be absolutely sure that there are good facilities within the community. We have had a significant reduction in the number of care home beds over the last few years, and the facilities need to be in place, up and running so that people can transfer as few times as possible."

Hospital bosses say the need for closures had been identified during a six-month review, adding that staff had been kept informed throughout and would be consulted following the decision.

And Anthony Douglas, director of social care and health at Suffolk County Council, said: "The delayed discharge figures in west Suffolk have been tumbling, and we have put major investment into the area, jointly with the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT), to create quite a lot of resources for the coming year.

"There are always risks, but we are in a better position now to deal with delayed discharges. There has been over a million pounds worth of joint investment put into this, and we would certainly match the numbers from the ward within the community."

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