Health chiefs have walked back on promises that beds would not be cut at Ilkeston Community Hospital.
The number of beds at the Heanor Road site last year was 32.
However, this has now fallen to 24 as a result of “operational staffing difficulties”.
Plans to cut beds further to 16 – with potential to boost capacity in periods of intense demand to 18 beds – were pushed ahead at a meeting on Thursday.
Back in September last year, health chiefs repeatedly denied that beds were set to be closed at the Ilkeston hospital and that none had been closed.
They reiterated that the public would be informed if that was to change.
Dr Chris Clayton, chief executive of the Derby and Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), had said in a rowdy public meeting in September that ‘we will not close beds until we are confident that we have the right replacements’.
At the time, Ilkeston Community Hospital staff told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that they had already been informed that around six to 10 beds were set to be cut.
This was denied by William Jones, chief operating officer for Derbyshire Community Health Services – which oversees the hospital.
Staff also said that many of their colleagues were quitting due to the fear of bed cuts and the impact of NHS funding cuts
They said that morale was at an all-time low and feared that any staff that leave would not be replaced.
The fear of bed closures had also been dubbed a ‘dangerous rumour’ by Erewash MP, Maggie Throup.
Now papers published by the CCG reveal that eight beds have already been cut and a further eight are set to follow – reducing the number on site by half.
However, the number of patients who can be attended by NHS staff at home is to be increased from 27 to 37.
Alongside this, the number of support beds available for Erewash residents is to be increased from three to 11. These would be at Lady Cross Care home in Sandiacre and across the district border at the Florence Shipley Residential & Community Care Centre in Heanor.
In a meeting of the CCG on Thursday, governing board members said that the decision to cut beds at the hospital was not a financial one - but was to ensure that the right beds were available.
Zara Jones, executive director of commissioning operations at the CCG, said: “This is an important issue. We need to provide the right care in the right place. For many of our patients that is a bed in their own home.
“In the north of the county we have already been doing this with better care closer to home.
“We are looking to model our system on what we need for the future.
“Whilst appreciating the anxiety and sense of fear that this can invoke, we need to make the best of the facilities in Ilkeston.
“We still have plans to further develop facilities there and move other services in.”
Ms Jones said that a 60-day period of ‘engagement’ would be launched with members of the public encouraged to share their views – particularly former patients and their families.
However, a formal consultation will not be launched into the decision because the change is not thought to be a ‘significant’ one.
She said the CCG had sought expert advice on the matter.
Steve Lloyd, the CCG’s executive medical director, said: “This is absolutely the right thing to do. It is well known that patients who stay in P3 (hospital) beds longer see their conditions worsen.
“The driver for this is not financial but for better quality of care and better outcomes.”
A report on the issue says that older people are particularly affected by long stays in hospital – with impacts include a severe loss of muscle strength.
Dr Clayton said: “Ilkeston has a vibrant future and there is no intent in this proposal to move to any closure of Ilkeston.
“Issues like this often see people jump to conclusions that are not there.”
CCG chairman, Dr Avi Bhatia, said: “There is no move to close Ilkeston Hospital, and there is scope to improve services further there.”
A final decision on whether to cut beds at Ilkeston Community Hospital will be made in September.
Commissioners said that any decision on beds would need to be made ‘way ahead of winter’.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service