Region's NHS loses 500 beds in year

HEALTH campaigners have spoken of their fears for the future after new figures revealed the region has lost more than 500 hospital beds over the last year.

By John Howard

HEALTH campaigners have spoken of their fears for the future after new figures revealed the region has lost more than 500 hospital beds over the last year.

But the Government insists that the decreasing number of beds across the country in fact reflects better patient care and more day case surgery.

The number of beds open overnight, critical care beds and residential beds in the two strategic health authorities' areas has reduced by more than 600 over the last year, the Department of Health statistics show.


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But day only beds in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex have increased by 87 since last year.

Last night, campaigners against hospital cuts said they were outraged at the loss of beds.

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Roy Gray, chairman of the Felixstowe Save Our Hospitals Action Group, which is campaigning against the closure of the Bartlet Hospital, said: “Ipswich Hospital is losing units, the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe will close down losing beds, services at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds appear to be under threat.

“It's unbelievable. I do believe that patients, particularly the elderly, are under threat. I am deeply concerned. We have not even come across a winter surge yet, we will have problems if we do.''

Conservative MP for West Suffolk, Richard Spring said: “There is a total shambles which is now the NHS in Suffolk. It has never been so dire for the county's NHS. It's just beyond anything, it is absolutely scandalous.

“Beds are being removed, wards removed, services removed, hundreds of people in the NHS, who are wonderful caring nurses, are losing their jobs.”

David Ruffley, Tory MP for the Bury St Edmunds constituency, said he thought bed closures put a lot more pressure on front-line caring staff, because of cash shortages.

The Conservatives say the NHS has now lost 18,000 beds since Labour came to power, one third of which were lost in the last year.

They said increasing day case surgery was “not an excuse”, and the proportion of procedures performed as day cases has remained at 50% for three consecutive years, and had seen no significant increase since 1998/99.

But the Government argues that improved care means the NHS is treating more patients using fewer beds.

New NHS chief executive David Nicholson said: “This clearly demonstrates the way we are improving services for patients by re-designing them to make them more convenient and more appropriate for patient needs, which crucially involves looking at alternatives to inappropriate hospital admission.

“Alternatives such as managing diabetes and other long term conditions in the community. The key issue for the future is moving our mindset from thinking about buildings and beds to thinking about services.

“Where the NHS needs more beds, there are more beds, such as in critical care. Also, with fewer patients being kept in overnight, the number of day-only beds has increased by more than 2,500, over 40%, since 1997.”

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

2006 2005

Number of beds, excluding day only beds

NSC SHA 7,950 8,522

Essex SHA 4,978 5,012

Total 12,928 13,534

Day only beds

NSC SHA 547 474

Essex SHA 271 257

Total 818 731

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