Obsessing over Whittington bed numbers ‘unhelpful’
Changing “hearts and minds” on reducing bed numbers has been outlined as a key strategy for the trust in charge of the Whittington Hospital as it looks to build public support for its future vision of care in the community.
The chairman of Whittington Health, Steve Hitchins, backed suggestions made last week that the trust needed to change the public’s perception of what the future of healthcare looked like as it outlined its clinical strategy.
It was two years ago next month that the trust’s previous administration prompted thousands of people to march in the streets after it proposed cuts to beds and a sell-off of hospital buildings in a bid to save money.
The protests forced bosses of the hospital in Archway to abandon its plans.
On Wednesday of last week, the trust’s new board members discussed the future strategy it would now adopt going forward.
More detail will be given in next month’s board meeting and no plans have so far been mentioned over future bed cuts nor proposed sell-offs.
But board members described as “very necessary” a communication strategy that would avoid a future backlash should cuts be proposed in the future.
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Sitting as an observer, Islington councillor Paul Convery told the board: “The eventual stage the trust needs to get to is where there will be deep and widespread understanding that this isn’t just a place you go when you’re sick and then sent home.
“Because that is broadly still the popular view of an institution like this.
“You’ve got to get to a place where the next time the trust says, ‘actually we need slightly fewer beds in the hospital’, you don’t get a public backlash that says ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’.”
Mr Hitchins replied: “You’re absolutely right – we need to change hearts and minds.”
Speaking to the Ham&High this week, chief executive of Whittington Health Simon Pleydell elaborated on the trust’s vision, saying: “First off, what we want most of all is to keep people healthy and provide a service that delivers safe care.
“I don’t think talking about the world in terms of bed numbers is a helpful thing to do.
“The bed base over the entire NHS has decreased over the past 10 years.
“People coming in for major operations were in hospital for two weeks 10 years ago, whereas today it could be one week. There will be times in the year when we don’t need quite so many beds [and] we need to be able to flex our capacity.
“And our progress as an organisation mustn’t just be measured in the bricks-and-mortar of the Whittington Hospital.
“We need the hospital to be here to care for people when they need to be in hospital. But we want to aim to provide the vast majority of our care out in their homes and in the community.
“Hospitals are not always an ideal place for people to be.”
Shirley Franklin, of the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition which helped coordinate the march against the proposed sell-off in 2013, described the trust’s strategy as “a disgrace”.
She said: “We stopped them from shutting the A&E and cutting beds when we marched, and now they’re adopting a PR strategy to mask cuts.
“We are very worried about the early discharge of patients they talk about, especially when at the same time there have been cuts to social care budgets.
“The population has grown and people are living longer.
“We need to make sure they’re looked after properly.
“Every time we’ve asked about bed numbers they’ve not provided them to us.
“They may think they can change hearts and minds but we’ll be fighting them.”