A DECISION to relocate two hospital wards has prompted staff to raise fears about a reduction in beds during the winter.
Health chiefs have acknowledged moving the “community wards” from Newport’s St Woolos Hospital to the nearby Royal Gwent this February will result in 24 fewer beds across the area but say it will also cut the amount of time patients stay in hospital which will benefit them.
During the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board meeting, which confirmed the plan, it was also revealed hospital bosses held 150 meetings with staff to discuss the impact on them of moving from St Woolos to the Royal Gwent which is just over half a mile – and a little over 10 minutes walk – away.
The community wards are rehabilitation wards but are also used for patients who are medically well enough to leave hospital, with there currently being some 300 such patients stuck in hospital beds across Gwent.
Leanne Watkins, the health board’s chief operating officer, said having the community wards at a separate site meant staff, such as pharmacist and council social workers, are spread across two sites and ambulances have also had to be used to transfer patients between them.
It is intended the Penhow and Gwanwyn wards, that are currently based at the Casnewydd Unit at St Woolos, will retain their names and identities when they are relocated to the C5 West and C5 East, co-located wards, at the Royal Gwent in the week beginning February 19.
The west ward is vacant while the east ward, a general medical ward, will be moved to D5 West.
The Ruperra ward, at St Woolos, which currently has 24 beds will be reduced to an 18-bed “ready to go” ward, for patients who should be able to leave hospital, and will move into the Casnewydd Unit at St Woolos.
Overall there will be a reduction of 24 beds which Ms Watkins said will take the board closer to the number of beds projected in its ‘Clinical Futures’ plan but acknowledged: “A big worry of staff is we are taking beds out in the middle of winter. But it is the right thing to do.”
A report to the board said as by offering better access to support and specialist staff at the Royal Gwent, and with patients in poor health no longer having to transfer by ambulance, the move will reduce the amount of time spent in hospital.
The “Ready to go” Ruperra ward will be led by nurses, but not staffed by them, and this will reduce the board’s use of agency staff. The changes are expected to save the cash-strapped health board £1.7 million this year, mainly from reduced nursing costs, and the board was told further savings are anticipated due to a reduction in ambulances and diagnostic testing.
Ms Watkins said concentrating care at the Royal Gwent will also benefit staff. She said: “They are exhausted and we can’t continue to spread them across the system.”
Jennifer Winslade, the director of nursing, said the “Ready to go” ward will “deliver care more like the care received at home and we know it works as we saw a model in Somerset.”
The board’s special advisor Phil Robson said he supported the plan, as he said it is “right for patients”, but asked if difficulties for staff had been overestimated.
Referring to consultations undertaken by the health board Mr Robson said: “This must have taken hours and hours of people’s time for something relatively minor. We had 150 meetings and that must have taken an awful lot of capacity and time out of the organisation.”
He said the board will have to make more substantial changes in the future.
Ms Watkins said the board was aware of the potential impact on staff from previous changes such, as at Nevill Hall in Abergavenny, and said: “Staff are really worried by this and it is possibly the only workplace they have known for 30 years and their home is St Woolos.”
The board was also told there is a “local agreement” on how the board consults with staff on such proposals.
As well as contributing towards the planned number of beds the board thinks it will require in the future the relocation of the community wards to the Royal Gwent is in line with plans agreed when the Grange in Cwmbran opened as the critical care hospital.
Concentraing services at the modern Casnewydd unit will allow the board to consider the partial sale or disposal of parts of the St Woolos site.