NHS to increase beds to head-off winter hospital crisis

This is reported as costing £24m within the county.

Stand up all those, mostly Conservatives, who backed the closure of the community hospitals. – Owl

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

Plans are being put in place to open more beds at Devon hospitals to head-off a winter healthcare crisis after one of the busiest ever summers for the NHS. An extra £5million is being spent in Plymouth which alongside Cornwall is among the worst in England for ambulance handover delays.

Some of the money will go on 41 extra beds at Derriford Hospital and community hospitals to ease the pressure on the emergency department. In the rest of Devon, £19million is being spent on creating extra capacity in the NHS for the winter. That includes £6million on creating 37 extra beds and spaces at Torbay Hospital, 18 at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, and 11 at North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple.

The extra £24million has been secured from national funding to tackle the pressure across the NHS in Devon. More patients will be treated at home in so-called ‘virtual wards’, where support from clinical teams is provided remotely through the use of apps, platforms and devices which can monitor pulse, heart rate and breathing.

The £5million project will create three virtual wards covering Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, and East and North Devon, creating the equivalent of around 75 hospital beds. The first of the schemes will go live in December 2022, and will be scaled up through to March 2024.

Patients will be given a choice of being an inpatient or receiving treatment at home, and their home circumstances and available support will be taken into account.

Devon will see £9.8million invested in the hospital discharge process, including for care hotels, agency support, rehabilitation care and support, and for patients with complex dementia. It includes extra capacity for mental health, on top of £219,000 already allocated for winter pressures.

An extra £900,000 is being invested in the handover of integrated community urgent care services to a new provider, Practice Plus Group, in October.

A communications strategy will focus on persuading people to contact the 111 service before going to an emergency department, take up the flu and Covid vaccines, use pharmacies, and use online services.

A report outlining the measures to Devon County Council said: “Devon’s system remains under sustained pressure due to a range of complex and multi-faceted issues – including the pandemic, increased demand, staff shortages, and vacancy rates in health and adult social care providers.

“The cost-of-living crisis is also impacting on health and social care services, not only for our population and our staff, but also in the care market. Staff nationwide have faced one of their busiest summers ever with record numbers of Emergency Department attendances and ambulance services facing extreme pressures, high demand for social care and mental health services, and the impact of another wave of COVID-19.

“As a result, bed occupancy levels in hospitals are high, people are staying in hospital for longer than they need to, and ambulance handover delays are increasing. Ultimately, it means many patients aren’t getting the care they need in a timely way. The past two years has seen significant pressure upon our urgent and emergency care (UEC) services. The workforce is stretched and exhausted, yet it continues to deal with high levels of demand against a backdrop of constraints which affect our ability to treat people.”

The rise in ambulance handover delays at hospitals has been blamed on shortage of beds and delayed discharges to social care. Figures at the start of September showed that in Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay, around one in 10 beds was occupied by a patient who was fit to leave, but was waiting for care to be arranged. In North Devon the proportion was 27 per cent – more than a quarter. GPs are seeing more patients and more complex needs, with appointments up by 8 per cent in the past year. Meanwhile the vacancy rate in the NHS has increased in line with the national picture. In July, there were more than 4,500 vacancies in health and social care in Devon.

National ambulance data for July showed record calls to the most serious incident, and the highest level of patient handover delays.

Last week a senior doctor warned that the NHS is facing a winter crisis as figures show 1,200 emergency patients in Devon waited more than 12 hours for a bed in August. Dr James Gagg said the latest data from the region’s emergency departments was “shocking”, with large numbers of patients “facing extremely long waiting times”. He called on MPs and councils to acknowledge a “looming crisis” facing the health service in the winter and to “act now before it is too late”.

The NHS in Devon says it is facing a “challenging” budget for this financial year, with a need to find savings of £142million. The county council, which funds social care, was forecast in July to face an overspend of £40million, including £6million on adult social care.

The proposals in the winter winter plan after learning from last year, when the health and care sector faced “severe and sustained pressure” due to an increase in demand and the impact of the pandemic.

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