NHS chiefs have been warned against setting “unachievable targets” in sweeping changes to hospital services after a separate shake-up in Yorkshire failed to hit a series of key objectives.
A new report reveals soaring demand for care forced health bosses in Wakefield, Dewsbury and Pontefract to scale back a reduction in hospital beds from 170 to just 30 in a controversial reconfiguration of services.
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The review of the changes calls for better planning of future projects as annual savings from the reorganisation were slashed to £5.6 million, significantly below the £9.7m target.
The findings last night triggered warnings from a senior MP the same mistakes must not be repeated in a second reconfiguration of hospital care in Huddersfield and Halifax which is due to see 105 beds axed and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) demolished with the loss of accident and emergency.
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Local health chiefs have until next month to re-examine the plans after former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said a “wide variety of failings” had been identified in proposals which rely on huge cuts in emergency hospital admissions.
Shadow Health Minister and Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff said she had always argued the reconfiguration in her constituency was “flawed” and it had quickly become clear capacity could not be safely reduced at Dewsbury’s hospital. “With ever-growing demand on overstretched NHS services, the danger now is that the same unachievable targets are being set in Huddersfield,” she said.
“But whilst the Mid Yorkshire hospitals trust made the welcome decision to retain more beds than originally planned at Dewsbury, there will be little flexibility to do this in a plan that still sees HRI being demolished and replaced with a unit with just 64 beds.
“We must not see the same mistakes repeated, putting ever-greater strain on our local NHS services and putting patient care at risk.”
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The internal report by the Mid Yorkshire NHS trust on the reconfiguration, which was completed last September, said there were clear lessons to be learned from changes which saw key emergency services centralised at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
It said estimates of demand for care were already over-optimistic by the time the reconfiguration began in 2016, requiring 140 more beds than planned.
It described as “ambitious” a target to cut bed usage by 27 per cent overall, mainly by reducing admissions and shortening time spent by patients in hospital, leaving “little room for under-delivery”.
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The report found without community schemes to prevent hospital admissions growth would have been significantly higher.
It recommended: “Transformation schemes to underpin reconfigurations should have realistic level of impact attributed and include a margin for over-optimistic expectations.”
Demand led to extra wards
Higher-than-expected demand, mainly from frail elderly people, had left Dewsbury’s hospital operating four additional wards, with 210 beds in total – 100 more than expected.
The report said evidence showed improvements in hospital mortality, safe staffing levels and reduced staff turnover but challenges remained in achieving national targets. NHS Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield clinical commissioning groups said Mr Hunt had requested further work on the reconfiguration plans. They added: “We are continuing to work with partners to provide additional clarity and address the concerns raised.”