RESIDENTS have demanded to know why an empty hospital unit is not being used to help in the coronavirus pandemic.
One councillor has said it is ‘incredible’ that the former in-patient ward at Wantage Community Hospital is not being reopened.
With the NHS under growing pressure from the pandemic, the government is even considering drastic measures such as turning hotels into temporary hospitals.
With that in mind, Wantage and Grove councillors Jenny Hannaby and Jane Hanna wrote a letter to Stuart Bell, CEO of Oxford Health NHS trust which runs Wantage hospital, urging him to consider reopening the in-patient beds.
They wrote: “Councillors across local communities have been asked to identify existing buildings that can be used in the Covid-19 emergency plan.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock opens the temporary NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London on April 3. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
“As evidence mounts of the challenge Oxfordshire faces, we ask you to take action with a view to reopening Wantage Community Hospital as part of the county system-wide fight against the virus.
“A hospital which has served the community for many years can be reopened to help ease the congestion at the acute hospitals and pressure on staff.”
The 12 in-patient beds at Wantage Community Hospital were ‘temporarily’ shut in the summer of 2016 over fears of a possible legionella bacteria outbreak in the outdated hot water system. Other services at the hospital have continued.
A report by Oxfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board published in February, which looked at demand for hospital beds in the OX12 postcode area, concluded that there was ‘not a compelling case’ for reopening the beds.
Wantage Town Council argued that the report did not account for seasonal fluctuations or growth in needs.
Residents protest against the planned closure of Wantage hospital’s in-patient ward in June 2016.
Now, less than two months later Ms Hannaby pointed out that the hospital ‘can play its vital role and help the NHS’.
Her and Ms Hanna’s letter concluded: “As we watch the construction of large field hospitals close to urban centres in London and across Europe, we are conscious not only that we have an empty community hospital and an active league of friends but that there will be many available professional paid and volunteer health and care workers in the OX12 area, at least some of whom may not be able to travel to the John Radcliffe [in Oxford] or any large field hospital, but who could service Oxfordshire patients here.”
Despite the plea, Oxford Health denied that the beds would be useful.
Spokesperson Sara Taylor said: “During the current Covid-19 pandemic the availability of hospital beds is carefully planned in line with national modelling and kept under constant review.
“That dictates where changes need to be adopted to meet evolving requirements, in particular how to ensure that the need for additional critical care capacity is met.
An ambulance worker disinfects her vehicle during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
“Local services in Oxfordshire have worked closely and effectively together to ensure the maximum availability of acute care beds, and as the pandemic unfolds, there has not been a requirement identified to open additional community hospital inpatient sites.”
Mrs Hannaby, who has been volunteering at the hospital on and off for years, disagreed.
She said: “It is incredible that the trust is determined to keep the hospital shut even in these harrowing times.
“It is a very questionable decision that they have made – they are turning their backs on people.
“We do not know how this virus will pan out and every bed will be vital in the upcoming weeks.”
Oxford Health was asked to clarify how other community hospitals, such as Didcot, Abingdon and Wallingford, were being used to help in the pandemic.
The trust said its hospital teams were caring for a range of patients, ‘many of whom have been transferred to us from the acute sector and have wide ranging conditions’. It added: “Like every other community trust in the country, there will be numerous patients who are either symptomatic or recovering from coronavirus.”
The two councillors said they were considering their next moves.