£1 million wasted on empty hospital beds

A SHAKE-UP of dementia care in Hastings is on the cards after it emerged £1 million a year was being wasted on empty specialist hospital beds across the county.

East Sussex currently has two sites with dementia assessment beds – St Gabriel’s Ward in the St Anne’s Centre at the Conquest site, and Beechwood Ward at Uckfield Community Hospital.

Consultation papers released earlier this week revealed that during the second half of the NHS’s 2012/13 period, the 34 beds were only operating at around a 54 per cent occupancy rate.

This, according to a report shown to NHS decision makers earlier this year and now available to the public, meant empty beds were costing the local health service around £1 million a year.

Hospital campaigner Margaret Williams called the amount “staggering”, and said: “It is a complete waste of money.

“These people are meant to look after taxpayers’ money, and yet they waste it.

“They are custodians of the money, it does not belong to them.”

She said that those in charge should look more closely at the implications of their decisions.

She said this should include carrying out more feasibility studies before committing money.

Plans are now afoot to reshape the service to better reflect demand, and reduce the amount of money being spent on these empty beds.

The two sites are run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, however the provision of NHS beds for dementia sufferers is determined by the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

There are around 10,200 people in East Sussex living with some form of dementia and experts estimate that figure could rise as high as 14,000 by 2020. Just one third of people with dementia are likely to have been diagnosed, meaning the true extent of the problem is unknown.

A shift in NHS focus to providing more care in the community saw a memory assessment service launched last October - and local health bosses believe this county-wide provision will help increase the number of people actually being diagnosed to nearer the 70 per cent mark over a three year time span.

These clinics are based in places like GP surgeries rather than specialist mental health centres, suggesting the demand for assessment beds is likely to drop.

For that reason the NHS is consulting on a host of options, including removing the beds from both Hastings and Uckfield in favour of a smaller unit elsewhere in the county.

The consultation is being managed by the Hastings and Rother CCG working together with neighbouring Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford CCG and High Weald Lewes Havens CCG.

Locals are being asked their opinions on the plans and have until October 25 to fill in an online questionnaire, found at www.eastbournehailshamandseafordccg.nhs.uk.

Alternatively, call 01273 403687 to request a hard copy.

Chris Wyatt, area manager for Alzheimer’s Society in the South East said: “Two years ago, a group of MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia said that we needed to free up £1 billion from the NHS and invest it in dementia services such as outreach teams, respite services and better support for people at home.

“Most people with dementia in East Sussex and throughout the UK want to be in their own home and minimise the time they are in hospital.

“However, if they are not given the right support at the right time then this simply is not possible. If we invest money in the right areas then we can reduce hospital admissions, reduce length of stay and enable people with dementia to live independently for longer.”

Around £2.8million has already been invested in community-based services for dementia sufferers in East Sussex over the last five years and the clinical commissioning group believes the mooted plans reflect changes in the sort of provision patients now favour.

In a section called ‘What people tell us they want’, the consultation document reads: “For many years people have told us that they would prefer to receive appropriate care and treatment at home rather than being admitted to hospital or to a care home.

“This can be particularly important to somebody with dementia who is disoriented, and for whom new and unfamiliar environments can contribute to their confusion.

“They want more personalised services tailored to them as individuals and focused on their needs. They want help to ‘live well’ with whatever condition is affecting them.Where hospital care is necessary, people don’t want to stay there longer than necessary.”

Of the 34 assessment beds, 18 are at the St Anne’s Centre. One option, to centralise the provision on that site, would release around £1.35million to be spent elsewhere, compared to £1million freed up by focusing on the Uckfield ward.

The Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford Commissioning Group was unable to comment at the time of going to press.