Blackpool Vic's 'perfect storm' of more patients, fewer beds and less cash as waiting times rocket

Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Blackpool Victoria Hospital
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The number of operations cancelled because of a lack of beds at Blackpool Victoria Hospital has more than doubled in a year.

At the same time, the number of people on the waiting list rocketed by a quarter and topped 10,000, while bosses were forced to find savings of tens of millions of pounds.

Waiting lists have topped 10,000 at Blackpool Victoria Hospital

Waiting lists have topped 10,000 at Blackpool Victoria Hospital

With the number of beds also falling in recent years, pressure group 38 Degrees said the hospital had faced a “perfect storm” of “increased demand and drastic belt tightening”.

Local campaign chairman David Owen said: “The government has been expecting hospitals to make swingeing cuts while demand for more medical services for an ageing population has been going through the roof.

“You can’t take a quart out of a pint pot. The whole idea would be laughable if it wasn’t so deadly serious.”

From June 2016 until last May, 278 operations were called off because no bed was available, figures released under freedom of information laws showed.

From last June to this May, that number more than doubled to 566.

At the same time, average waiting lists rose from 7,166 to 8,932 and, in April and May this year, they had climbed above the 10,000 mark.

Some specialisms were worse hit than others, including general surgery, where the waiting list almost trebled in two years from 306 in June 2016 to 888 in May this year, and breast surgery, which went from 22 to 147 in the same period.

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said the figures “remain disturbing and point out the continued effect” of both government under-funding and local factors, such as Blackpool’s high levels of alcohol and drug abuse, obesity, and influx of tourists in the summer.

The trust’s annual report said it had a cash balance of £3.3m at the end of the last financial year, £2.9m below the planned £6.2m.

That’s down from £25.3m four years ago and, with a deficit of £14m planned this year, the trust is set to find itself £10m in the red by April next year, the report said.

A spokesman yesterday said the expected deficit was just £4m, but was unable to explain why.

And after being forced to find £90.6m of savings in the past five years, it was ordered to save another £17.4m this year – at a time it is seeing a huge number of patients.

From April 2017 until this March, 107,151 day cases and inpatients were recorded, as were 344,584 outpatients. There were also 79,997 people turning up at A&E.

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said he recently met the Vic’s new chairman Pearse Butler and “discussed a number of issues, including the winter crisis and waiting lists”.

He said: “I share with the new chairman great concern over the number of people waiting longer for routine procedures, and I recognise the importance of putting in place more robust measures to ensure patients are treated within an acceptable time frame.

“Where things go wrong for individual patients I am always ready to bring matters to the attention of trust management.

“However, I recognise the pressures placed on our hospital services by an increasing elderly and frail population and the multiple and complex medical needs they can present.

“I know a great deal of work is going on to ensure people spend less time in hospital and to ensure they receive the care they need in the most appropriate setting.

“I welcome some of the innovative and creative measures the new chairman has proposed to reduce waiting times and maximise the use of hospital resources, including surgical staff. At the same time I am pleased to see the Government recognising the importance of increasing funding for our NHS and the announcement of a new £20bn investment.”

A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We endeavour not to cancel clinically urgent operations or procedures of clinical priority, so in the main it is the more routine operations that are cancelled.

“Since April, we have developed a programme to ring-fence beds to protect them for elective admissions [admissions arranged in advance and not done urgently]. Looking ahead, our winter plan is more robust this year with additional emergency beds being put into place, and we expect to see lower levels of cancelled elective operations.

“There was a national directive over the winter to cease routine elective operations because of the pressure on beds. The national guidance states 92 per cent of patients should be seen within 18 weeks, but due to pressures over the last two winters, the trust unfortunately isn’t currently achieving this target.”

When asked how it will save £17.4m this year, and if it will affect patients, the trust said savings “will be found through a combination of improved procurement (getting a better deal on the consumables we purchase), improvements in how we manage outpatient and theatre service (becoming more efficient), and reducing spend on agency staff by replacing them with substantive employees.”

Number of beds down after hospitals across Fylde coast are closed

In 2007/08, the trust had a total of 1,061 beds at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, Rossall Hospital, Wesham Hospital, Bispham Hospital, and Clifton Hospital.

Last year, it had 896 beds – 165 fewer than a decade ago – at the Vic and Clifton Hospital in St Annes.

The others have all since closed.

At the Victoria Hospital, there were 800 beds last year, down 55 from 2007/08.

38 Degrees said the fall in beds “affects the trust’s ability to react to sharp rises in demand over the winter months” or during the summer’s heatwave.

Rossall Hospital was quietly sold in 2015, with Bispham and Rossall closed a year later.

A hospital source said at the time: “No beds will be lost. The only difference is who delivers the service – most patients won’t notice.”

More complaints - but trust says they were less serious

Some 582 formal complaints were lodged with the patient relations team at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2017/18.

That’s an increase of 48 compared to the year before.

But the trust said in its annual report the “severity of complaints received has lessened in the last 12 months”.

Some 177 were graded as ‘low’, and 78 as ‘moderate’.

Three were ‘significant’, down from nine ‘significant’ and one ‘high’ the year before.

The number of complaints responded to within 25-35 days fell by 96.5 per cent to 78 per cent “due to delays within the divisions and the corporate team”.

The number of complaints acknowledged within the required three-day time frame also dropped, from 84 per cent to 57 per cent.

“Complaints and concerns continue to be a regular agenda item”, the report said.