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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Failings at first PFI hospital
Cumberland Infirmary
Cumberland Infirmary has run into problems
The first hospital to be built under the controversial private finance initiative has run into serious problems.

A report into the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle details chaos on the wards, and urgent operations having to be cancelled.

The report says that there is a danger of serious bed blocking problems if improvements are not made in the way patients are treated and discharged.

However, unions claimed the report had failed to address the real issue - that the PFI scheme had led to reductions in the number of beds at the hospital.

The total number of beds in North Cumbria fell from 834 before the hospital was built, to 729 afterwards.

But the bed losses, according to the report, were supposed to be offset by reductions in admission rates and the length of time patients stayed in the hospital.

Independent experts

North Cumbria Health Authority and Cumbria County Council commissioned independent experts to investigate problems at the hospital earlier this year.

A rise in emergency admissions led to the hospital having to cancel urgent operations and meant patients in the casualty department were left on trolleys as they waited for treatment.

Bosses at the infirmary announced the hospital was full to capacity, with 40 beds "blocked" by patients who were well enough to leave but could not be discharged because of delays in finding nursing home places for them.

The report blames delays in transferring elderly patients from ward beds to intermediate or home care and a lack of resources for helping people in the community which could prevent them being admitted to hospital in the first place.

The external assessors of the Cumberland crisis said: "The failure in the system has not been due to the reduction in bed numbers per se but rather the inability to achieve developments in alternatives to hospital care and changes in referral patterns and lengths of stay necessary to maintain the whole system in balance."

Robin MacLeod, chief executive of North Cumbria Health Authority, said: "We warmly welcome this report as a good analysis of the problems and welcome the guidance as to what action can be taken to resolve the pressures in the future.

"There are pressures on beds across Britain and I am pleased that North Cumbria is tackling the issues head on."

Real problem

But Peter Doyle, regional official for Cumbria at the public service union Unison said: "The report has failed to address the real problem which is the reduction in the number of beds.

"There has been bed-blocking at the infirmary from the very beginning because there simply aren't enough beds to treat people.

"This report makes matters worse - it is an attempt to cover up a fundamental problem with PFI - and that is that all PFIs provide fewer beds than hospitals built under the NHS."

Mr Doyle claimed that the first 11 hospitals built under the PFI scheme would amount to 3,800 fewer beds.

The 87m hospital, opened in April 2000 by Prime Minister Tony Blair, was first to be built under the PFI initiative under which private companies build and finance a hospital and lease the site back to the NHS.

Ministers have said many more hospitals will be financed in the same way.

See also:

06 Jul 98 | Latest News
'PFI will cost jobs and beds'
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