Shock over hospital bed figures

BEDS at Ipswich Hospital have been virtually full for nearly six months - but health chiefs last night denied cutting capacity will affect patient care.

BEDS at Ipswich Hospital have been virtually full for nearly six months - but health chiefs last night denied cutting capacity will affect patient care.

The EADT has discovered the hospital has been on a state of high alert, with either no free beds or less than 20, for the equivalent of up to 147 days out of the last 184 between May and October.

The shock new figures graphically illustrate how stretched the hospital has become, even before massive cuts, including the axing of 71 beds and 357 jobs, are implemented.

One union official last night claimed the statistics, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show patient care may suffer in future as a result of the proposed cost-savings.


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But the hospital said planned changes will mean fewer beds are required. It expects to reduce the amount of time people spend as inpatients, with more treatment provided within the community.

Since May, the hospital has been on black alert for up to 352 hours, red alert for up to 1,504 hours and amber alert for up to 1,680 hours.

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Black - the most serious category - means no beds were available for a period of time, with red indicating fewer than eight were free and amber fewer than 20.

Clare Jacobs, officer for the Royal College of Nursing in Suffolk, said: “We have real concerns about the drop in beds and whether there are the technical advances in place to cope with it.

“We wouldn't want to see any cuts before the systems are put in place and people have been properly trained.

“We're also concerned patients won't be able to get a bed in the hospital when they need one. The worst case is they have to reopen wards which aren't properly staffed or even transfer patients to other hospitals, like West Suffolk or Addenbrooke's, which would be entirely inappropriate.”

Prue Rush, of the Ipswich Hospital Public and Patient Information Forum, sympathised with the plight of the finance chiefs in finding multi-million pound savings.

She said: “They are between a rock and a hard place. They have no choice but to make these cuts and are in an absolutely awful situation.

“But we are worried that the services being curtailed by the hospital and it must be almost inevitable that someone, somewhere along the line, is going to have to wait longer for a bed than they should've done.

“It's certain that facilities are not going to be as freely available as they should. What they are going to have to do is prioritise the patients that need care first.”

A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital assured patients that changes in the way they are treated will mean they will be sent home sooner, without their care being compromised.

She said: “We have looked at the way patients are treated when they are in hospital and are looking at reducing delays while they are in.

“For example, we are looking at providing a diagnostic service over the weekend and that reduces patients' time in hospital.

“There's a whole raft of schemes looking at making sure we do the things that need doing in as timely a way as possible. That reduces the demand on beds.”

She added: “The last six months have actually been better than last year. An amber bed state is quite a comfortable bed state to have. When it's red we are taking action to make sure that everything is done that could be done. Black is when it is tight and we've not had many instances of that.

“We always do everything we can as far as patient care is concerned. It's an improvement in patient care if you are not keeping people in hospital longer than they need to be.”

Black: There are no beds available, except emergency ones which have to be specially opened. Since May, the hospital has reached this state of alert 17 times and remained on it for between 261 and 352 hours.

Red: There are less than eight ordinary beds available for patients. Since May, the hospital has reached this state of alert 38 times and remained on it for between 1,256 and 1,504 hours.

Amber: There are less than 20 remaining beds unoccupied. Since May, the hospital has reached this state of alert 44 times and remained on for between 1,372 and 1,680 hours.

Source: Ipswich Hospital.

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