Bed closures and care in the community to head off a £102m hospital trust deficit

A hospital trust is set to close beds and deliver more care in the community in a bid to stem a predicted £102million deficit and relieve pressure on hospitals.

Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, which manages Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals, will remove beds used to tackle winter demands and is aiming to prevent “unnecessary admissions”, according to a recent report.

The trust defines these as patients who “need an urgent response but do not need and acute hospital bed”.

A spokesperson said: “We always need more beds over winter and close them in the summer. This is standard for NHS trusts. There is an overall focus on increasing care in the community, such as the use of unscheduled care co-ordination hubs, as well a greater use of virtual wards.”

However, the trust provided little information about the hubs or virtual wards, including how and where they would operate or who would staff the community care.

It comes just a week after the trust announced 600 jobs are set to go to tackle the financial shortfall.

Tricia Cowdrey, who was standing as a Kursaal ward candidate in yesterday’s local elections, said: “The wording is very vague and I have a lot of questions as I am sure my colleagues and Save Southend NHS will too.

“We have no understanding of what this will mean for those who would normally use escalation beds but also what they mean by unnecessary admission – surely we don’t have unnecessary admissions. I would want to challenge this.”

Ms Cowdrey also repeated her concerns over the hospital trust, adding: “I am obviously concerned about the loss of 600 NHS staff at whatever level , concerned about the impact on patients but also on staff morale. This, I understand, is to go to the health overview and scrutiny committee at Essex County Council who recently waved through the proposal to downgrade our neonatal unit.

“I really do hope that whoever sits on the Southend people scrutiny committee this municipal year continues to hold the trust to account and asks all of the questions that our residents want answers to.”

In a report to Essex County Council’s health overview policy and scrutiny committee, the trust said: “The trust has been working to reduce its financial deficit against a challenging backdrop for some time. The trust is still forecasting an overall deficit of £29.7million, after using £89million of non-recurrent funding during 2023/24.

“In the absence of non-recurrent funding the trust anticipates the deficit rising to around £102million at the end of 2024/25, after the delivery of further stretching saving opportunities.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter