Winter A&E pressures: Watchdog criticises Horton chiefs for past beds closures

Healthwatch Oxfordshire chairman George Smith
Healthwatch Oxfordshire chairman George Smith

Health watchdog members criticised the permanent closure of hospital beds at a meeting last night, Tuesday, as the Horton General Hospital’s A&E is under severe pressure.

Healthwatch Oxfordshire board members slammed Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust as it had to take beds from other wards to cope with demand.

The Horton, John Radcliffe Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre were on the highest possible pressure level, known as ‘black alert’, for four days last week with dialysis patients still having to go to Oxford for treatment because the emergency department has taken over beds.

Healthwatch chairman Prof George Smith said they warned the trust not to close beds on multiple occasions as they would be needed during the winter.

“The health authority has not been straight with us, a year ago they looked us straight in the eye and said they had more beds than they needed,” he said.

“So they were either lying or they are so incompetent that they can’t see the reality in front of them.”

Board member Martin Tarran-Jones said Healthwatch needs to ‘stand up and be counted’ as a watchdog by not supporting any further bed closures.

The hospitals came off ‘black alert’ on Friday afternoon as director of clinical services Paul Brennan said the trust’s decision to open extra beds and postpone non-urgert procedures was helping to alleviate pressure.

Extra beds taken from the Horton dialysis ward will stay at A&E until the end of the month, Mr Brennan added.

Healthwatch Oxfordshire held its three-monthly board meeting in Banbury Town Hall last night, and an ambulance service director gave a presentation on the changes to the 111 service.

South Central Ambulance Service director of integrated urgent care Lynda Lambourne outlined how they were making the non-emergency helpline work better.

The Thames Valley Integrated Urgent Care service has been set up where Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire patients can access a wide range of care services through a call to 111, in theory getting the right choice first time.

The increasing demand – going from 175,000 calls a year to 1.2m – means they have a five-year plan to make it successful, she said.

Members of the audience said more should be done to advertise the 111 service as not enough people knew about it, as well as the improvements.

Ms Lambourne said there is hesitation to run a national campaign as there are fears it may cause an overwhelming amount of calls.

But she said people should get the same level of service whether they call 111 or 999, or visit their GP.

Mr Tarran-Jones also updated the board on Healthwatch’s financial situation, which is solid but there is no agreed funding past 2019.

Executive director Rosalind Pearce said they had a good working relationship with Oxfordshire County Council, which provides the funding, and hoped it would continue supporting them.