Andrew George MP calls for an end to the NHS 'bed-blocking crisis'
A multi-million pound contract awarded to a private firm to run Cornwall's cottage hospitals should be renegotiated if bed shortages cannot be sorted, a Cornish MP has said.
Andrew George said there was a bed-blocking crisis in the county, which meant dozens of patients at the Royal Cornwall Hospital could not be discharged because there was no place available for them in the community.
He added that the continuing closure of Poltair Hospital near Penzance was adding to an "intolerable pressure" on the county's main hospital.
Peninsula Community Health, the not-for-profit company running the community hospital near Penzance as well as 13 other units, denied there was a crisis and said it was performing according to the contract awarded by NHS Cornwall, the primary care trust (PCT).
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However, the St Ives MP said action must be taken immediately.
"The situation is intolerable," he said. "The primary care trust says that Peninsula Community Health – the company which runs the community hospitals – is meeting its contract, therefore the PCT is not concerned about the Poltair closure.
"If that's the case, then the contract should be looked at again."
According to Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust board papers, last year there was an average of 23 patients a day whose discharge was delayed because they needed ongoing care, but a bed was not available in a community hospital or a social care package had not been finalised by Cornwall Council.
Last month, the number of delayed discharges – which effectively means a bed is blocked to an incoming patient – rose to a peak of 46 in January.
Mr George said that only an integrated NHS would "break down the barriers" to "make sure that there are enough hospital beds to go around."
A spokesman for PCH said the ten in-patient beds at Poltair were closed because of staffing issues and there were no immediate plans to reopen them. She added that the situation was under constant review and that out-patient clinics continued at the site.
The spokeswoman said that PCH was taking part in a thorough review of services undertaken by the NHS Kernow, the GP-led organisation which will replace the PCT in April.
"All local NHS healthcare organisations, including PCH, are committed to supporting the GP-led review of services in West Cornwall, to ensure that our service developments in 2013/14 support sustainable long-term provision of care for patients in locality.
"Any proposals to permanently change or improve services will be subject to full engagement and involvement."