£1 million being spent on empty hospital beds

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THE NHS is planning a shake-up of dementia provisions in Hastings after it emerged empty specialist hospital beds were wasting £1million a year.

At present East Sussex has two sites boasting dementia assessment beds – Beechwood Ward at Uckfield Community Hospital and St Gabriel’s Ward in the St Anne’s Centre at the Conquest.

However, consultation papers released earlier this week revealed that during the second half of the NHS’s 2012/13 period, the 34 beds across the county were only operating at around a 54 per cent occupancy rate.

This, according to a report shown to NHS decision makers earlier this year and now available to members of the public, meant empty beds were costing the local health service around £1million.

Plans are now afoot to reshape the service to better reflect the demand for assessment beds and reduce the amount of money being spent on these empty beds.

There are around 10,200 people in East Sussex living with some form of dementia and experts estimate that figure could rise as high as 14,000 by 2020.

Just one third of people with dementia are likely to have been diagnosed, meaning the true extent of the problem is unknown.

A shift in NHS focus to providing more care in the community saw a memory assessment service launched last October - and local health bosses believe this county-wide provision will help increase the number of people actually being diagnosed to nearer the 70 per cent mark over a three year time span.

These clinics are based in places like GP surgeries rather than specialist mental health centres, suggesting the demand for assessment beds is likely to drop.

For that reason the NHS is consulting on a host of options, including removing the beds from both Hastings and Uckfield in favour of a smaller unit elsewhere in the county.

Locals are being asked their opinions on the plans and have until October 25 to fill on an online questionnaire, found at www.eastbournehailshamandseafordccg.nhs.uk.

Anyone without access to the internet can have their say by calling 01273 403 687 to request a hard copy.

Around £2.8million has already been invested in community-based services for dementia sufferers in East Sussex over the last five years and the people behind the consultation believe the mooted plans reflect changes in the sort of provision patients now favour.

In a section called ‘What people tell us they want’, the document says: “For many years people have told us that they would prefer to receive appropriate care and treatment at home rather than being admitted to hospital or to a care home.

“This can be particularly important to somebody with dementia who is disoriented, and for whom new and unfamiliar environments can contribute to their confusion.

“They want more personalised services tailored to them as individuals and focused on their needs. They want help to ‘live well’ with whatever condition is affecting them.

“Where hospital care is necessary, people don’t want to stay there longer than necessary. While people don’t want to travel further than they need to, they would also like to be sure that the quality of their care and the environment is of the highest available quality.”

Of the 34 assessment beds, 18 are at the Conquest. One option, to centralise the provision one that site, would release around £1.35million to be spent elsewhere, compared to £1million freed up by focusing on the Uckfield ward.