HEALTH chiefs have admitted three city hospitals face closure – despite the Government insisting that the NHS cannot afford to lose any more beds.
The futures of Astley Ainslie, Corstorphine and Liberton hospitals are all under threat after NHS Lothian said it struggled to provide quality care in the ageing buildings.
In a planning document – which sets out the health board’s priorities over the next eight years – it is also stated that fewer hospital beds may be needed, with more patients set to be treated in the community rather than hospital. But as a meeting of the NHS Lothian board, at which the paper was to be discussed, got under way, Health Secretary Alex Neil was telling workers at a Unison conference 45 miles away in Glasgow that a growing older population meant the same number of beds and hospitals would be needed.
Bed numbers in Lothian across all specialities have been slashed by almost 20 per cent in the last decade, from 4445 in 2003 to 3655 in 2012.
NHS Lothian and Mr Neil are now facing calls to provide clarity over the future following the apparent contradiction.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “Alex Neil is saying we need the same number of beds to cope with demographic change, yet NHS Lothian is talking about reducing bed numbers. It seems like they are singing from different hymn sheets.”
NHS Lothian has said that while it was committed to its major hospitals, there were no guarantees over the smaller Astley Ainslie, Corstorphine and Liberton sites – which have 467 beds between them.
The health board said the buildings “provide a less than optimal setting for patient care” and that it would look at “opportunities to safely move off sites”. The strategic framework document added: “Less hospital inpatient care may mean we need fewer hospital beds”.
But Mr Neil told Unison delegates: “Even if we are able, through better treatment at home, to reduce by 50 per cent the level of hospitalisation of our elderly population, we are still going to need the same number of beds, the same number of hospitals, the same number of doctors and nurses just to stand still because this population [over-75s] is doubling.”
Scottish Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw accused NHS Lothian and Mr Neil of sending out opposing messages, adding: “There has been no end of negative news stories from NHS Lothian about capacity pressure and other issues, so how it can come to the conclusion it can afford to cut more beds is beyond me.”
Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning at NHS Lothian, said there would be an increase in beds at the ERI and the board was committed to modern facilities.
He added: “We will review our current models of care and make decisions on maintaining, expanding, refurbishing or replacing facilities to ensure we have the right mix of inpatient beds and capacity in the community to meet the needs of the growing population.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to at least maintaining the level of quality and provision in Scotland’s NHS – and that means having the right numbers of staff and beds, in the right place.
“All health boards continually work to shape their services to best meet the care needs of their local populations.”