A row over whether Chipping Norton’s hospital beds should be handed from NHS staff to private providers intensified this week, after county council chiefs suggested provision may be moved away from the town if residents do not agree to their plan.
Budget-cutting Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) said it would be cheaper to hand patient care to the Orders of St John (OSJ) group which runs the care home next to the community hospital and used to run the 14 intermediate care beds.
But campaigners say statistics show patients leave hospital more quickly with NHS treatment than they did under OSJ.
County consumer watchdog Healthwatch boss Rachel Coney said it was not acceptable.
“OCC is effectively saying ‘this is what’s for dinner, eat it or go hungry’,” she said.
“We believe the approach put forward can only lead to further escalation of tension and anxiety of the part of patients, carers, the public and staff.”
The hastily reformed Chipping Norton Hospital Action Group, furious because it was told only last August that beds were safe with NHS nurses for at least three years of a five year contract, has been collecting support from hundreds of local residents.
“Our MP David Cameron has written to us saying ‘I remain of the view it would be best for the NHS to staff the hospital beds’.
“Our community has a right to see the complete cost breakdown which must include the knock on costs in acute hospitals through bed blocking as a result of longer patient stays.
“Under OSJ these were 40 days versus NHS’s 27 days according to figures we have seen.
“We do not believe there is a big saving if any once all costs are included.
“This seems to be an OCC decision to give the beds to OSJ regardless. The OCC tactic is to threaten something worse so they can compromise by keeping the beds in Chipping Norton but giving them to OSJ.”
OCC spokesman John Jackson, director of adult social services, issued a statement last week offering public consultation but threatening to remove the beds altogether if the town demands NHS staff.
“If adult social services decide to commission other providers then this would almost certainly be much closer to Banbury to provide more equitable provision for the north of the county,” he said.
Witney MP David Cameron said he was ‘extremely’ disappointed to hear OCC wanted to return to staffing of the beds by OSJ and is organising a meeting with the warring groups.
“OCC is the one with the budget to commission these beds and I have sought assurances OCC and Oxford Health Trust will work together to ensure the number of beds will be maintained, beds will be available for all NHS patients, not just the frail and elderly and standards of care required are nursing standards, with staff trained at the appropriate level.
“I will do all I can to ensure these important services remain available,” he said.