University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) is planning to reorganise acute hospital services in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland at a cost of around £370m.
The plans involve consolidating services away from Leicester General onto two sites – the Royal Infirmary and the Glenfield – and include a new maternity hospital at the LRI and a new treatment centre at the Glenfield.
Sounds good, right? Think again.
Virtually no detail about the plans has been put into the public domain and made available for public scrutiny. The public are being asked to trust that ‘doctor knows best’.
But here’s what we do know:
Lack of beds
UHL’s new plans do not include an increase in the number of beds, despite ongoing issues with capacity in local hospitals. In fact, a lack of beds led to the cancellation of thousands of operations last winter. UHL was unable to deal with both emergency admissions and planned (elective) care at the same time.
And if we already have too few beds, imagine the situation in the near future when the local population is even bigger. The Strategic Growth Plans for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are planning house-building for an estimated population growth of hundreds of thousands of people over the next 30 years.
You might expect that this would mean we need a significant increase in the number of available beds – certainly not a standstill!
Save Our NHS Leicestershire welcomes funding for the NHS, but we need to know that our services are being futureproofed.
UHL rightly state that one of the main issues behind the current crisis is staffing. Wage freezes, the removal of the nurses’ bursary and chronic underfunding of our NHS more generally which leads to overworked staff means that, nationally, there is now a shortage of 40,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors. UHL alone has a shortage of around 600 nurses – which makes it difficult to open more beds
But the staffing situation is more fluid than our buildings. An expansion in training places, increased pay and proper investment by future governments can address staffing problems. By contrast, the number of theatres, recovery areas, intensive care beds and general and acute beds is fixed by the current plans.
If UHL’s current plans go ahead, hospital services will be fixed in scale with no hope of expansion in the coming years.
UHL claim that an expansion in community services and different pathways of care will offset rising need for hospital care. This narrative is being used by different hospital Trusts across the country to justify inadequate plans.
But the truth is that because of chronic underfunding across the NHS alongside cuts to local government spending (austerity), social care faces a crisis of similar, if not greater, proportions to that of the NHS.
Once funding has been agreed for UHL’s plans, it will lock the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland into an inadequate facility for the next twenty years with no hope of large-scale government funding from future governments. So it is important to get these plans right.
We need to build a movement to protect our NHS from government attacks. But with an ageing and growing population, we also need to extend and develop what we already have.
This means demanding more money from the government and expanding the number of beds available in our local hospitals.
Britain is the 6th richest country in the world. We can afford a properly funded public health system. The problem is that we live in a system that is rigged in favour of the superrich.
What we cannot afford is to be complacent.
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