Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT) have recently announced that they are closing the Chartridge ward at Amersham hospital on 1 July.
This follows closely behind the closure of overnight beds at Marlow and Thame hospitals last year without any specific consultation with local communities, which raised concerns that Buckingham's hospital was next on the list.
In response, this paper ran a campaign that ultimately resulted in 1,914 people responding to us via postal vouchers, petition signatures and online survey, demanding that Buckingham keeps its Community Hospital.
As part of this campaign we interviewed representatives of BHT on 22 August 2018. At the meeting, consultant physician and divisional chair of integrated elderly and community care Dr Syed Hasan told us that the Chartridge ward at Amersham hospital was one of the options for patients in Marlow.
Thus, when it was announced a little over 300 days after that meeting that the Chartridge ward was also closing, this raised concerns that we put to BHT. They supplied the following statement:
"Whilst the Trust received a Good rating following a recent inspection, with Outstanding for Caring, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has imposed conditions regarding staffing levels in its community inpatient wards via a ‘conditions on registration’ letter sent to the Trust’s Board. The Trust cannot meet these conditions due to a shortage of nurses and therapists.
"It took the decision to temporarily close one of the community wards at Amersham Hospital from 1 July to ensure that it can continue to keep its patients safe. By concentrating staff across two wards at Amersham instead of three we can ensure safe staffing levels.
"Buckinghamshire residents requiring rehabilitation will either be supported on our therapy and nurse led unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, or referred to Buckingham Community Hospital or to the Waterside Ward at Amersham Hospital. If safe to do so they will continue their rehabilitation at home with support of the Rapid Response & Intermediate Care Teams. All patients requiring care and rehabilitation in a community inpatient setting will be provided for within the county.
"Across Buckinghamshire, recruitment and retention of staff remains one of our biggest challenges. The decision to temporarily close Chartridge Ward will be reviewed in November. In the meantime, we will monitor the impact that increased therapy support has on improving outcomes and reducing the length of time patients spend in hospital. We will also monitor waiting times and patient experience."
When the news regarding Amersham hospital was announced, a prominent campaigner (who wished not to be named) wrote to county councillor Mike Appleyard, chairman of the Health and Adult Social Care (HASC) Select Committee, requesting to see the impact assessment regarding the closing of the ward.
Mr Appleyard wrote in response, without addressing his constituent or signing off the email:
“These are NOT hospital beds, they are Care beds that happen to be in a hospital.
“The impact assessments will be that people moving out are likely to be happier than stuck in a hospital bed until they die.”
We showed this to district councillor Robin Stuchbury who helped run our campaign to save Buckingham Community Hospital last year. Mr Stuchbury said:
“I find the statement from Councillor Appleyard both unreassuring and disappointing.
“A hospital bed is a hospital bed, and it’s commonplace for people to need them for respite and recovery, just as they do currently in Buckingham hospital. It is very successful and let’s hope it continues to be so.
“The statement suggesting people would be better off moved out of hospital beds than staying there to die doesn’t show respect and isn’t something I would expect a Cabinet member to say - clearly people go to hospital with aspirations of recovering, not waiting to die.
“I would suggest the councillor explains his remarks & I hope it doesn’t represent Buckinghamshire county council's aspirations for elderly people in hospital.”
Mike Appleyard provided the following statement:
“I acknowledge my email was a little abrupt, I really had not meant for this to come across in this way. I have since responded to the member of public in question explaining that the HASC Select Committee continues to review, monitor and challenge proposed service changes in the Hospital Trust and will continue to do so over the coming months, in relation to the temporary closure of the Chartridge Ward at Amersham Hospital. As ever the role of HASC is to hold decision makers to account and ensure the best outcomes for residents of Buckinghamshire. Our local community can rest assured that HASC will do this.
“I also clarified that the Committee is not responsible for undertaking impact assessments so suggested they spoke to the Hospital Trust for a response. I have offered to discuss the issues around the temporary closure and hope they will take me up on this.”