More than half of community hospital beds in East Devon could be closed under proposals published by NHS North, East and West Devon CCG.
A consultation proposes scrapping 54% of beds in East Devon to bring provision ‘in line with the rest of NEW Devon’.
But GP leaders said this could mean ‘acutely unwell’ patients having to rely on already over-stretched GP services instead.
The proposals stem from the Wider Devon’s sustainability and transformation plan (STP) – the blueprints for the future of the NHS currently being designed across England – which says closing community hospitals will ‘facilitate implementation of the care model and release funding to invest in more ambulatory care provision in community and home-based settings’.
The NHS NEW Devon CCG area currently has 143 beds in eight community hospitals, but under the STP proposals, only 71 beds will remain open across three hospitals.
As it stands, the CCG is currently facing a financial shortfall of £122m in 2015/16, projected to rise to £384m in 2020/21, according to the consultation document.
But the CCG said the closures would save between £2.8m and £5.6m a year, after an additional investment of £1.4m is made in community services.
As previously reported by Pulse, a similar consultation is underway in NHS South Devon and Torbay CCG, which proposes to close four community hospitals.
Dr Bruce Hughes, chair of Devon LMC, said fewer beds could mean more ‘acutely unwell’ patients will being treated in the community with the medical cover falling on GPs to deliver – ‘potentially overwhelming services which are already stretched due to high demand and a lack of investment’.
He said: ‘There needs to be greater recognition of the pressures faced by our GP practices and the impact that transforming the wider local healthcare system has on them – backed by resources.
‘This will help to ensure that local general practice is sustainable in the future so patients receive treatment, care and support relevant to their needs.’
But Dr David Jenner, a GP and chairman of the Eastern locality for the CCG, defended the proposals saying: ‘Bed-based care will always be available for people who need to be in a hospital but we need to make sure the alternative of home-based care is always considered.
‘Too many people are currently in hospitals that don’t need to be there and they could be receiving a better service at home.’
Angela Pedder, the STP lead for Wider Devon, said: ‘We recognise the changes we are proposing will prompt difficult debate but we firmly believe the options in the consultation represent a real opportunity for us to improve care.’
The NEW Devon CCG consultation will run until 6 January 2017.
What are STPs?
At the start of this year, NHS England tasked regional teams, CCGs, trusts and local authorities to write ‘sustainability and transformation’ plans outlining how the NHS Five Year Forward View would be put into action.
Pulse’s scrutiny of the 44 STPs being worked up have previously revealed how:
- GPs in one region of England may have to shoulder an increasing burden of patient care following the merger of two acute care trusts in Nottinghamshire;
- In Dorset, a plan for the sustainability of the local NHS suggests that a current 98 GP practices, operating at 135 sites, ‘will over-stretch’ local ‘workforce and finances’. It suggests that a ‘reduction in the number of sites’ would lead to a better provision of services ‘for more hours of the day and days of the week’;
- In Hampshire and Isle of Wight, a reduction in GP workload by almost a third is sought, while also significantly reducing patients’ face-to-face contact with primary care.
- In North London, practices with list sizes under 10,000 patients could face closure amid moves to create primary care ‘hubs’ with lists of 30,000.
Pulse also revealed that GPs have been left largely in the dark throughout the first six months of the planning process but NHS England said it would not approve any plan that does not support general practice.
NHS England previously said plans will be finalised then published in full by October, but to date only a handful of STP areas have actually published theirs.