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Staffing problems prompt Devon trust to bring forward community bed closures

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An acute trust has brought forward the closure of 71 inpatient beds across four community hospitals due to pressures on safe staffing.

Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust will close beds at community facilities in Exeter, Seaton, Honiton, and Okehampton – with the first closures coming into effect on Monday.

“We reached a tipping point at one of our hospitals last weekend, when we had no patients”

Em Wilkinson-Brice

The trust had originally set “indicative” closing dates between 4 September and 16 October but this has been brought forward due to the difficulty of safely staffing the wards.

The beds at Okehampton and Seaton community hospitals will close next week, and beds at Honiton and Exeter will be closed during the weeks beginning 28 August and 4 September, respectively.

According to a trust statement, published yesterday, the move is designed to “enhance” community services to support more home-based care by reinvesting resources saved from closing the beds.

“To achieve the transition safely, implementation will take a phased approach to redeploy and recruit staff to the additional nursing, therapy, care workers and pharmacist roles which will enhance community services in Exeter, East Devon and Mid Devon,” said the statement.

But it added: “Over the past couple of weeks, it has become apparent that the schedule for the closure of the in-patient units needs to be brought forward. This is due to the increasing pressures on safely staffing the current configuration of seven community inpatient units.”

“It has become apparent that the schedule for the closure of the in-patient units needs to be brought forward”

Trust statement

Em Wilkinson-Brice, the trust’s deputy chief executive and chief nurse, said there were vacancy rates of 20-30% at one of the hospitals, with staff choosing to leave or taking up other roles.

“We reached a tipping point at one of our hospitals last weekend, when we had no patients and no patients waiting from the acute hospital, and staffing was becoming a real challenge,” she said.

“Since we developed our out of hospital service, we have seen less need for community hospital inpatient beds,” she told Health Service Journal.

Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust

Staffing ‘challenge’ prompts acceleration of Devon bed closures

Em Wilkinson-Brice

Despite the bed closures, the four community hospitals will remain open, as other outpatient services are offered there.

The trust statement added: “Now that the workforce HR consultation has been completed, 170 staff can be redeployed into the enhanced community teams and our hospitals to provide extra capacity and resilience to meet the demand for care for the people of eastern Devon.”

The Your Future Care plans were subject to a 13-week consultation that closed earlier this year, after which they were approved by NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group.

The trust said the net result would mean an increase of over 50 community-based staff to support out of hospital care but a reduction in community inpatient beds across Eastern Devon. It added that the plans included creating new nursing, therapist and support roles.

Under the plans, the trust will retain 72 beds at community hospitals in Tiverton (32), Sidmouth (24), and Exmouth (16).

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