A HOSPITAL ward has been permanently closed in the latest cost-cutting move at the Royal Bolton.

Hospital chiefs insist the closure of 28 beds will speed up the assessment and discharge of patients — but staff say wards are already stretched to full capacity.

The closure of B3 ward will save the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust £800,000 a year, with some of the savings being invested in new assessment services.

The ward was used for mainly elderly patients with “complex” care needs, such as diabetes.

Twelve beds were part of the temporary winter ward due to shut this summer, meaning there is an overall reduction of 16 beds.

More ward closures are expected later this year as part of the government’s plan to downsize hospitals and provide more care in the community — a rapid shift that has been described as “breathtaking” by council chiefs.

Hospital staff have questioned why they were not consulted about the move.

In a leaked message from the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust’s intranet site, one member of staff wrote: “I have two questions. Why are the wards being closed and why has there been no discussion with staff or patients regarding the closures?

“Surely at a time when bed capacity is at its limit, it seems like an unthought- through plan.”

Ddirectors at the Trust, which runs the Royal Bolton Hospital, say the closure will reduce assessment time from 48 to about four hours, thanks to the improved frailty unit.

The average cost of running a ward is about £1 million a year and the Trust will invest £200,000 in improving patient assessment services, such as more occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

The cost to the community teams and GP practices is not yet known.

Andy Ennis, chief operating officer at the Trust, said: “The Trust has been looking at reducing the capacity at the hospital through a number of initiatives which will mean fewer beds are needed.

“Reducing unnecessary length of stay, better discharge planning and better infection control are all involved with this, which will also reduce costs whilst maintaining or improving quality and safety.

“This fits in with the national direction of travel to have smaller hospitals and more care in the community.”

In April, the hospital recorded its worst A&E performances in a year, with more patients being admitted than discharged.

Mr Ennis said the closure will provide more “flexibility” during busy periods at the hospital.

He also insisted patient safety would not be compromised and no jobs would be lost.

He added: “We are focusing on the quality of services. It’s about improving the care of patients and making sure they are seen by the right people at the right time.

“This is not about simply patients out of the hospital and into the community. We will have more occupational therapists and therapists to help reduce an unnecessary long length of stay.”

Health and social care is set to be transformed in Bolton this year, with hospital resources being shifted into the community.

Most healthcare providers in Bolton agree integration is “the way forward”, yet the speed at which the government is expecting local authorities and NHS groups to roll out changes has been cited as a concern.

Cllr Linda Thomas, deputy leader of Bolton Council and chairman of the Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “As the cuts from central government continue to bite into the NHS and local government, we are having to work in a more integrated way to mitigate the situation.

“The speed we are expected to deliver integration has been breathtaking.

“Our concerns are that reductions in beds do not compromise quality patient care.

“As with all the services we need to be sure that all the new integrated services are embedded and delivering.

“The Royal Bolton have to play their part by making changes internally, but we will need to closely monitor the effects of bed closures and be assured that care is not compromised.”

Su Long, chief officer at NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, added: “We are aware of Bolton Foundation Trust’s plans to reduce beds due to internal efficiencies they are making.

“NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group has a duty to the people of Bolton to work with the trust to ensure these plans do not cause any deterioration to the quality of patient care.”

Hospital beds in numbers

  • There are about 768 hospital beds at the Royal Bolton and more than 35 wards.
  • The average cost of running a ward is £1 million a year.
  • Between 50 and 70 patients are admitted to hospital every day.
  • The Bolton NHS Foudation Trust must save £73 million over the next five years.