Health chiefs say it’s time to finally get down to the ‘nitty gritty’ and have promised to come up with a firm plan for the future of Bedford Hospital by May.
The pledge comes 12 months after the launch of a costly £3.2 million Healthcare Review, which has failed to produce a ‘magic solution’ to secure the hospital’s future.
As part of the review commissioned by the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (BCCG), 10 months were spent looking at best practice around the world in a bid to find a solution, which will meet the needs of Bedford’s growing and aging population while also fitting in with budget constraints.
“Unfortunately it did not provide us with a magic bullet, a magic solution,” said Jane Meggitt, who oversees communications and engagement for the BCCG. “The money question hasn’t gone away.”
But chief operating officer John Rooke, speaking at an extraordinary governing body meeting on Wednesday, added: “We have not been sitting on our hands waiting to receive the report. There has been a tremendous amount of work going on.”
He said work has taken place around effectively managing people with long-term conditions and supporting people in a more co-ordinated way.
Later this month a Hospital at Home scheme will launch, to help prevent needless admissions to hospital.
Mr Rooke said: “Between now and April/May we have to find a sustainable answer.”
There are currently two options on the table, produced by the review - to have an integrated care centre with an emergency centre at Bedford Hospital and a major emergency centre at Milton Keynes or vice versa.
But the report says that both options are not wholly sustainable without more detailed and further work.
The proposed action plan on the way forward will be put out to public consultation before any final decisions are made.
The BCCG is facing a £28.8 million deficit by the end of the financial year which, due to risk factors, could rise to more than £30 million.
Presenting the finance report David Gilburt said: “I’m losing sleep about some of these numbers. We are doing all we can to tighten financial controls.”
Speaking following the meeting, Mayor Dave Hodgson said: “It is a scandal that while hospital staff continued to work flat-out to cope with massive demand in A&E, NHS Commissioners sat around a table agreeing to pursue proposals which will cut emergency care at either Bedford or Milton Keynes.
“The current crisis is further evidence that there is no spare capacity in the system here or elsewhere, so there is literally nowhere else for people to go if they go ahead with cutting urgent care in Bedford.”
Stephen Conroy, chief executive of Bedford Hospital, said: “We welcome the opportunity to work with Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group to develop a long-term strategy for local health services and this week we met with our CCG colleagues to begin this phase of work.
“The recent pressures we have experienced at Bedford Hospital, and across the health system as a whole, reflect the need to develop sustainable urgent care services, including A&E at Bedford Hospital.”