The closure of FREE NHS beds in Ward 3 at Belhaven Hospital continues. They have now been closed since water quality issues were identified at the hospital in August 2022.
Although the chargeable care home beds at Blossom House (Ward 1) saw their residents return over a year ago the progress on the water issues elsewhere on the site has been slow. It has been difficult for the community to get updates on what has been happening.
It seems, from an update in January 2024, that priority has been given to works on acute sites and thus the opening of Ward 2 as a community hub for therapists and Vaccination Centre has been delayed. This delay has impacted not only on the use of Ward 3, where the Vaccination Team has been based but also on the opening of the James Court Hub for Smart Assessment.
Of greater concern has been the loss of provision of the FREE NHS beds in Ward 3 for step down, GP assessment and end of life care. In August 2023 information was that discussion was ongoing with GPs about use of the beds. In January 2024 an update said that the future use of Ward 3 was undecided as priority has to be given to staffing at Haddington Community Hospital.
This news is a blow to the community. Belhaven Hospital is a vital and much valued resource. Money has been spent on its refurbishment following the water problems. Vaccination staff have been based there whilst waiting on Ward 2 to be refurbished.
Residents have made it clear that they want care close to home. In the absence of beds at Belhaven people have been cared for in Edinburgh and Haddington. The latter is not easy to access without a car and even with a car the parking is really difficult.
The continued closure of beds at Belhaven and Edington also impacts on the bed blocking in the acute sector. If they were brought into use patients could be cared for locally and free up beds in Haddington and the Royal Infirmary. They could be used whilst patients wait on care packages or other care needs which are not easy to access, particularly in the more rural parts of the ward. Overnight care is a particular problem even for those with the ability to pay for services. I know of people who would like to use Ward 3 for their very frail relatives. For some the only choice is to pay for nursing home care but that too sees a shortage of beds in Dunbar and East Linton Ward and local people may have to seek beds in North Berwick, Tranent, Haddington or Edinburgh.
The situation also highlights broken promises on the future of Belhaven Hospital. In 2009 closure was averted and Health Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, promised new facilities. In 2018 Health Minister ,Shona Robison refused to commit £500,000 to upgrade Ward 2 because new facilities were to be developed. In 2020 there was the promise of new facilities at Belhaven and Edington. Now in 2024 much money (sum unknown) has been spent on refurbishing the water supply system at Belhaven and yet the NHS beds remain closed to patients.
The Health Minister has questions to answer on why residents of Dunbar and East Linton Ward cannot be cared for close to home when NHS beds at Belhaven Community Hospital remain empty.