Elderly patients in Blackpool face having to travel as far as Fleetwood for treatment as hospital chiefs look to head off a winter crisis.
Bosses at Blackpool Victoria Hospital today confirmed they are shutting down Ward 10 – which currently provides orthopaedic rehabilitation – so they can free up dozens of much-needed beds.
Those beds will be used to help ease the burden placed on hospital services – particularly accident and emergency – during the expected surge in winter illness.
Ward 10’s rehab services are set to be moved out in a matter of weeks.
A partnership with Spiral Health, at the old Bispham Hospital, will see services provided there, as well as beds made available at Rossall Hospital and Clifton Hospital in St Annes.
Today one health campaigner said the move would cause problems for elderly orthopaedic patients who could have to travel miles from their homes for treatment.
However, Vic bosses said freeing up beds was vital and they remain confident they can “better support” rehab patients outside of the Vic.
Rita Walsh, of Blackpool’s Senior Voice Forum, said despite the extra hospital beds, orthopaedic rehabilitation should remain at the Vic.
“I don’t appreciate this at all,” she said. “What happens if you live in South Shore? You’ve got to travel into Blackpool and out the other side – it takes it out of you.
“And this will cost people money, that’s a big issue. If you’ve had an operation you can’t always get on the bus, the alternative is getting a taxi.”
Mrs Walsh, 72, of Layton Road, Blackpool, had a hip operation at Spire Fylde Coast Hospital – a private facility on St Walburgas Road.
She said rehabilitation was a vital part of recovery, and said the best place for that was a central hospital.
She added: “Being in hospital was the best place for me.
“The Vic is central – you can come from all over to The Vic – but Bispham is different. I don’t drive so I would really struggle.”
It is believed staff and patients from Ward 10 will be moved at the beginning of next month.
A&E units are now under severe pressure all year round, leaving little slack in the system for the harsh winter, which has been forecast, with sub-zero temperatures expected across the country.
Last winter, Royal Preston Hospital was forced to cancel all “non-urgent” operations after seeing an “unprecedented” number of patients.
The plan to move rehab out of Ward 10 has been drawn up by Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Blackpool and Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Groups and Spiral Health.
Pat Oliver, director of operations at the NHS trust said: “Many of the patients admitted to hospital during the winter period require rehabilitation and social support in order to meet their needs.
“A number of these patients are admitted for orthopaedic reasons and following surgery an acute hospital ward is not necessarily the best place for some of these patients to receive their rehabilitation.
“We are currently piloting this clinical model to see how we can better support patients in a more appropriate community setting in partnership with Spiral Health.”
Mrs Oliver said the winter season brought increased demands on hospital services, particularly the emergency department.
She added: “We have to address these challenges together and the local health and social care organisations service providers have been working on winter plans for some time as we look to provide the best standard of care possible.”
The plan to re-open Rossall Hospital was revealed at Fleetwood Town Council’s health committee.
Coun Bill Barrow, who chairs the committee, said the move would help relieve pressure on The Vic over the winter months.
He said: “It’s very strange because we closed the hospital, now we’re opening it up again.
“It sounds like an extremely complicated process.
“To a degree I’m happy to see Rossall Hospital back in use rather than standing empty, but I’m confused by the logistics.”
Fleetwood Town Council leader, Coun Alan Marsh, said the move made little economic sense.
He added: “We’ve just spent thousands closing Rossall Hospital, it makes no sense to me whatsoever.”
Spiral Health declined to comment.
But Norma Rodgers, chairman of Healthwatch Blackpool, said the announcement should be seen as good news.
“From the announcement it’s clear that these are extra beds, made available in anticipation of increased demand this winter,” she said.
“It’s far better than waiting until there’s a problem before we act so I’m sure that local people will welcome this as much as members of Healthwatch.”