The Johnson government has swept to power on the back of extensive promises to invest in and improve the NHS – but many of these promises will soon be under the spotlight.
The latest performance figures show the NHS is struggling to cope with winter demand for emergency admissions and to maintain elective services with 95% of beds occupied even after opening 4,500 “escalation beds”.
But more and more people in various areas are realising that the promise of extra money for new buildings or even a new hospital does not necessarily mean more beds: it could mean fewer.
In Poole, Dorset, Matt Hancock has just rubber-stamped the downgrade of their local hospital, to centralise emergency care in Bournemouth, which has not met A&E targets for almost five years. The reconfiguration project has been allocated £147m to cover a new emergency department and critical care unit in Bournemouth – but no significant extra beds: so will the new set-up cope with demand?
In South West London, it has been announced that a new specialist emergency care hospital to replace Epsom and St Helier hospitals will be in Sutton: but it’s also clear that the £500m project will have only 400 beds – whereas the current Epsom & St Helier Trust has 747 general and acute beds. Both of the existing hospitals would be downgraded to urgent care only: how would services cope with this reduction?
In Shropshire, too, a controversial £312m project signed off by Matt Hancock only months ago to rebuild Shrewsbury Hospital and “centralise” emergency services, downgrading Telford, has soared in cost to £498m, but includes no extra beds. With Shropshire’s A&E already registering the worst 12-hour trolley-waits in England, and A&E demand up 27% in a year, how can they cope if they downgrade Telford?
Extra money does not ensure sound policies: expect more risks to be taken as ministers show their real intentions for the NHS.
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