Closure proposed for Hitchin Hospital

THE NHS has proposed to shut down a Comet country hospital, it was announced this week, with a residential care home also scheduled for closure.

Hitchin Hospital could be closed in spring 2012, an Intermediate Care consultation paper published on Tuesday revealed.

Bulwer Lytton House in Knebworth will also be closed next year, as previously agreed. Extra beds will be commissioned in care homes locally to replace both services.

If the hospital is closed, it is proposed to work with the county council and Community NHS trust to see if an alternative use can be found for this site.

The primary care trust (PCT) has said it cannot yet say what the site will be used for.

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Dr Jane Halpin, chief executive of NHS Hertfordshire, said: “To make sure that we are able to provide the right level of care to this growing population, the PCT and Hertfordshire County Council will need to work even more closely together to plan intermediate care services in a different way.

“At the moment more patients in Hertfordshire receive their intermediate care in a community hospital beds, compared to other parts of the country, rather than being supported in their own homes or closer to home.

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“This can sometimes lead to patients being away from home longer than they need or want, becoming more dependent and less able to care for themselves.

“It can also waste NHS resources, because we have to pay for a fixed number of beds in set locations, where sometimes they may be left empty.”

The new approach to intermediate care was agreed by the board of NHS Herts in July 2010, to reduce bed-based provision and encourage home-based services.

A consultation, which has already started, will run until Friday, February 3 next year.

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley said that he would look at the consultation as it progressed.

He added: “At present, there are only about 10 beds there. We want to use the resources of the NHS to their full potential, and if it’s no longer used to that, the resources should be transferred elsewhere.

“As long as we end up with better facilities, we shouldn’t allow sentimental attachment to stand in its way.”

Herts Community NHS Trust said that it welcomed the proposals, and would work with staff who were employed at the hospital to ensure they were kept informed.

A spokesman added: “Our focus remains on ensuring that everything we do is centred on the care of our patients and addressing the needs of them, their carers and their families.

“We believe an expanded home based support service is absolutely fundamental in keeping people out of hospital and in their home environment.

“Our staff are also a priority and we have already started consulting with them about the proposals. We intend to make every effort to ensure that they are kept informed of developments and that their interests are looked after.

“We agree with the commissioners’ view that both Hitchin and Royston Hospitals are now unsuited for the current models of care being devised for intermediate care patients. Both hospitals are ageing and there are increasing challenges for staff to maintain safety and dignity for patients on both sites.”

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