Campaigning to protect hospital beds

Whipps Cross University Hospital
Parts of the current Whipps Cross Hospital building pre-date the NHS itself

Eva Turner wants to ensure the new Whipps Cross meets local needs

The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted that having sufficient hospital capacity is vital for our community.

Before the pandemic, Whipps Cross Hospital was running at between 98% and 99% bed occupancy, sometimes with no free beds. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance states that once bed occupancy goes above 90%, increased infections, re-admissions and mortality are likely. It is fair to describe Whipps Cross as an overstretched hospital.

Yet when Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the Leytonstone hospital, released a public update of its redevelopment plans in May, it suggested there would be 50-60 fewer beds at Whipps Cross (based on a likely 67% success rate for its community care model, the report suggested 525 beds were needed at the new hospital, down from 586 as at late 2019). That’s despite East London having the fastest population growth in the capital.

The aim of reducing bed numbers has now been confirmed by the publication of the trust’s business case for the hospital redevelopment.

Since the start of ‘austerity’ in 2010, the NHS has been underfunded and under-resourced, with more finances being diverted to the private sector instead. Hospital beds are expensive, so the focus of planning has been to promote better health services in the community, to help keep people out of hospital. The number of general acute hospital beds in England has fallen from 110,000 to 100,000 over the last ten years.

This time last year the government promised to spend £2.7billion on building six hospitals, one of which being the new Whipps Cross. No exact figure was given for each one, but the funding equated to £450million per hospital.

A recently-published health and care services strategy maintained that new care models in the community would reduce the volume of A&E attendances, emergency admissions, and average length of stays in hospital. Organisational improvements are said to reduce the need for patients to be admitted, as well as their length of stay. This is being used by Barts as part of the justification for reduced bed numbers, despite no information or evaluation of our current community health services.

Key to all this is that the funding promised by the government is not going to be enough to fund the entire hospital redevelopment. To raise more funds, a land sale of parts of the Whipps Cross site is taking place, with new homes set to be built there.

Residents in Waltham Forest, Redbridge and beyond completely depend on Whipps Cross to provide NHS services for the whole community. We know that our beloved old Victorian hospital does not now meet the requirements of our growing population and we welcome the proposal for a new hospital.

Whipps Cross is also planned to become a centre of excellence for the care of frail and elderly people – but there is a danger that the new hospital’s designation for geriatric care could see some other surgical specialisms disappear.

We’ve scrutinised the Barts plans carefully. They are pursuing an untested, aspirational strategy that doesn’t take into account the underfunding of community resources, nor the fact that older people in hospital take longer to treat.

The direction of travel is clear; a new hospital with fewer beds.

We are now building a community-wide campaign to ensure that we have a big enough general hospital with an adequate number of beds, plus a 24/7 accident and emergency department. Please join us and help campaign for a better Whipps Cross.

For more information and to get involved:
Email whipps.cross.campaign@gmail.com