Health board responds to Bute change fears

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THE BUTE locality manager with NHS Highland has attempted to reassure island residents worried about the implications of the major changes to healthcare provision in the area.

Pauline Murty has spoken exclusively to The Buteman as fears about the redesign of the island’s health services, most recently expressed at Bute Community Council, reared their heads again.

In particular, worries about the closure of the Victoria Annexe, which provides continuing care for older people, and the reduction in bed numbers at the nearby Victoria Hospital, show few signs of going away.

“We just want to reassure people,” Mrs Murty said.

“People hear that we are reducing bed numbers, but this is not about cutting beds for the sake of them – it’s about reallocating resources to where they are most needed.

“Reducing bed numbers means releasing more money for support services.

“It’s quite a big change for staff as well as the community, and I can understand the anxiety around it. But this is about providing the services that people need, and we are still going to have 13 beds at the Victoria Hospital, plus one maternity bed and one ‘place of safety’ bed, which will be there for people who need them.”

The Victoria Annexe is currently being used to temporarily house in-patients while the Victoria Hospital is refurbished.

The Annexe, which had previously been used to provide continuing care for older people, will close to patients when the hospital refurbishment is complete.

The Annexe will then be used as a base for an expanding team of community healthcare staff, providing more services away from the traditional hospital environment.

But the closure of the Annexe as a continuing care facility has led to persistent fears that older people may have to be transferred off the island to receive the care they need.

“It is government policy that the NHS will not provide continuing care for older people,” Mrs Murty continued.

“This has already happened elsewhere. There may be cases when people need specialist treatment and will have to go to the mainland to receive it, but that already happens, and could happen anywhere.

“People should be cared for in an environment that is appropriate to their needs.”

The changes to healthcare provision on Bute are also having a significant impact on local NHS staff, many of whom are being retrained for new community-based roles - and though final staffing levels for the new setup have yet to be decided, the retraining process is already well under way.

“Nobody is going to lose their job as a result of this redesign,” Mrs Murty told us.

“Sometimes you do have to change the way people operate, and we have a huge training programme to equip staff to apply for these new posts as and when they come up.

“Everyone gets to have a fair opportunity to apply. The uncertainty always creates anxiety for staff when they can’t see where they fit into the jigsaw, but it’s a robust process that we have, and there have been quite a few opportunities for displaced staff already.”

The refurbishment of the Victoria Hospital, meanwhile, is due to be completed this month, and there are plans for an open day to show off the new facility to the public before it is in use.

However, the in-patient ward will not move back in until all aspects of the new community healthcare team are in place, which is expected to happen by the middle of May.

“Waiting might not be a bad thing,” Mrs Murty said. “We need to make sure all the support services are in place for the patients first.

“That will also include an overnight care team, overseen by Argyll and Bute Council, who will respond to Telecare alarms and support discharges from accident and emergency overnight.

“It may be that some social work staff will also be based in the Annexe; since they and the community team will be dealing with many of the same people, it makes sense to have them work together.

“The whole thing needs to work for patients. The health board and the council need to work together.

“We have always said we are happy to speak to community groups if they have concerns. I’ve already spoken to the Bute Forum for Older Voices, the Bute Practice Participation Group, and more than happy to speak to anyone else who would like more information about the changes and what they mean.”