Alston hospital conundrum

Date: Monday 10th April 2017

THE conundrum facing health bosses over the future of Alston community hospital is graphically illustrated by the events which this week have again led to the closure of its inpatient beds.

The six beds will be closed from Monday, 17th April, for at least a month because Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, cannot provide enough nurses to staff the ward 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This has understandably set alarm bells ringing among the campaigners whose call for beds to be retained at Alston on a permanent basis was rejected as part of a review into the future of healthcare in Cumbria. However, the beds are supposed to remain in place until proposals to provide alternatives, involving enhanced care in the community, have been fully examined.

It is difficult to imagine staff wanting to rush to work at the Alston hospital with this uncertainty hanging over its, and their, future, yet that is exactly what needs to happen. What is described as an innovative recruitment campaign has the backing of community groups and the trust is calling on the wider community to also support it. Yet it seems the trust could be scuppering its own campaign by continuing to close the beds at Alston hospital when the going gets tough.

The trust’s associate medical director, Dr. Craig Melrose, says the hospital and community services in the Alston area have a long-term and exciting future. That may well prove to be the case, but the closure of beds, even on a temporary basis, should be seen as a last resort if his confident prediction is to be embraced by local people and, more importantly, the staff who will be needed to make it a reality.