Whiteabbey rehabilitation unit to be wound down

time:2023-06-01 11:28:11 source:CBS News

The regional Enhanced Therapies and Rehabilitation unit at Whiteabbey Hospital is to be wound down.

The Northern Trust, which runs the facility, said it will close at the end of March 2023.

They said this was because "no recurrent funding source" had been identified beyond the end of this financial year.

Staff are now beginning a process of considering alternative employment on the site or elsewhere within the trust.

The unit was originally commissioned in November 2020 as one of Northern Ireland's Covid Nightingale hospitals.

The facilities offered a step-down post-Covid service for patients who were well enough to leave acute care but still required support before full discharge.

The 23-bed unit then became a regional facility for orthopaedic and non-Covid general rehab, accepting patients from across Northern Ireland for treatment from specialists including physiotherapists, speech therapists and dieticians.

The creation of this unit as a Nightingale facility answered some of the challenges the health service faced during peaks of the pandemic, and it showed what could be done when demand required it.

So the question is: at a time when the health service is again facing another crisis, this time in emergency care and hospital capacity, why is this unit closing?

Step-down beds could be part of the answer.

But beds cost money - the health service as a whole has no recurrent budget and is facing a massive overspend next year.

Despite good results for the patients who have used the facility, there simply is nothing in the pot to sustain it, and nothing in the pot to make it an emergency care Nightingale right now.

Another indication of just how badly the health service needs leadership, investment, and above all, hard decision-making.

The trust said it had been "operating successfully, with evidence of strong outcomes and an average length of stay consistently below 14 days".

But "wider budgetary pressures" mean it will now be wound down on a phased basis.

A spokesperson said: "Community beds are a vital part of our patient journey in that they afford the opportunity for patients to avail of a period of assessment or rehabilitation in bed-based facilities to maximise their personal abilities, often following a period of acute hospitalisation.

"Over the past few months we have been working up a long-term community bed model and we plan to go out to formal public consultation on this model early in the next financial year.

"We are committed to maintaining inpatient rehabilitation on the Whiteabbey site, and this will form part of the overarching community bed model."

The chairperson of the health union Unison at the Northern Trust said staff were "shocked" and "heartbroken".

"This is really disappointing for unions and staff, following the dedication and commitment of the teams working within the Whiteabbey Nightingale Facility," said Stephanie Greenwood.

"It's difficult to comprehend, considering the money already spent on the wards and infrastructure on the Whiteabbey site.

"We have been advised there will be no redundancies and we have been advised that there are enough posts on the Whiteabbey site and in Antrim for all the staff."

It added that meetings had begun to ensure staff were fully aware of the situation at the earliest opportunity.

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