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Bedblocking cash falls short claim

PUBLISHED: 12:15 07 November 2001 | UPDATED: 15:19 03 March 2010

SHADOW health secretary Dr Liam Fox has said Labour's £1.5m pledge will fall far short of solving Suffolk's hospital bedblocking crisis.

Dr Fox visited Ipswich Hospital today, after Labour hopeful Chris Mole went to Downing Street to brief Prime Minister Tony Blair on the local £1.

SHADOW health secretary Dr Liam Fox has said Labour's £1.5m pledge will fall far short of solving Suffolk's hospital bedblocking crisis.

Dr Fox visited Ipswich Hospital today, after Labour hopeful Chris Mole went to Downing Street to brief Prime Minister Tony Blair on the local £1.5m action plan to create more care places - revealed in the Star last month.

The Government is to provide the extra cash to reduce the numbers of elderly people who have been successfully treated in hospital, but can't go home immediately.

But Dr Fox said: "They will be lucky to increase capacity enough, with that amount of money. Fifty thousand beds have been lost since 1997 in the care home sector.

"We warned five years ago that Government funding policies would cause an NHS crisis, and that is exactly what has happened.

"It now means the Government won't be able to fulfil its promises about waiting times, if it can't actually discharge patients. Elderly people are being treated in inappropriate surroundings across the country."

He added that community hospitals like the Bartlett in Felixstowe played a crucial role in supporting acute hospitals like Ipswich –which has 50-60 patients blocking beds.

He said: "There has been a tendency to centralise medical care but areas which have a community hospital for patients to convalesce in, provide better and more flexible care than areas which don't."

He had read Evening Star Hospitalwatch stories about bedblocking, and said he was impressed by the local press' understanding of issues involved.

The former GP and hospital registrar spoke to ambulance liaison staff, and expressed concern when they said 20 per cent of emergency calls could be treated by a GP instead.

He met volunteers form the hospital's welcome service, and in A&E, specialist registrar Mike Lindley-Jones and lead nurse Sally Calderhead discussed how the 'triage' system which prioritises patients, could be improved by running two separate queues for minor and major cases - but only with more staff.

The department is currently short of two consultants, but Dr Fox heard that working hours and training for junior doctors had improved.

The minor injuries unit at Felixstowe has helped eased the burden on A&E - but people still turn up to use the 24-hour service rather than see their GP, and Dr Fox said links with GPs need to be improved nationally.

Sally said: "It is good for people from the cabinet office to speak to us at a local level, to see how they could influence change if they get into power."

Mike added: "He seemed to have common sense ideas, based on a good knowledge of the problems."

Dr Fox, recently returned from Australia and New Zealand, was due to visit France tonight, then Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Turkey to see how they manage to offer shorter waiting times to patients.

As leader of Suffolk County Council, Mr Mole has helped deliver the Suffolk Joint Action Plan, produced in partnership with Social Services and the NHS.

The plan is to re-open wards in community hospitals, buy extra places in private nursing and residential homes, and recruit more staff to offer extra out-of-hours care in peoples' own homes.

Mr Blair said: "Building partnerships to deliver better local care is vital to the future of our health services.

"Chris Mole clearly has an excellent record of working together to deliver value-for-money services for Ipswich people over a number of years. He will make a great champion for Ipswich in Westminster."

Mr Mole said: "I'm pleased we've won Government cash to tackle this problem and treat elderly patients with the dignity they deserve.

"Here in Ipswich we're taking the urgent action needed to meet the rigorous targets set by Tony Blair's Government to end significant bed-blocking by 2004."

Ipswich Hospital is a popular magnet for politicians in the early stages of the campaign – Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is due to visit Heath Road tomorrow.

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