NHS defends reduction in beds at new Sunderland Eye Infirmary from 22 down to just eight

NHS chiefs say they are are confident they have the “right capacity in the right place” at a proposed rebuild of Sunderland Eye Infirmary – despite concerns over reductions in overnight bed numbers.

Saturday, 10th July 2021, 1:42 pm
Artist impression of proposed new eye hospital at Riverside Sunderland

A plot of land at the Riverside Sunderland development has been earmarked for the proposed £36 million eye hospital, to replace its ageing base off Queen Alexandra Road.

While the need for the move has been largely welcomed, some concerns have been raised over the impact reduced bed capacity could have on patients needing to stay overnight.

The issue was raised at a previous meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee over a loss of 14 inpatient beds recommended for the new site – a drop from 22 to eight.

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At a meeting of the health scrutiny panel, health chiefs told councillors the proposals for the new eye hospital had been informed by the changing needs of patients.

“The design is taking into account the changing needs of service delivery and the changing needs of the population,” said Peter Sutton, executive director of planning and business development at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

“If we were to draw a trend over the last 20 years, we would see year on year decreases in the number of patients who require overnight stay and year on year increases in the number of people who are being treated as a day case.

“We would see year on year increases in the number of people who are being treated for what we call outpatient procedures.”

The health boss was responding to a question from Councillor Martin Haswell, who had previously raised concerns about the overnight bed capacity.

Cllr Haswell said: “I would be interested to know what the forecasting demand numbers are for overnight beds given we have got an ageing population and an expanding population.

“So how are we as an eye hospital, which is reducing its number of beds by more than half for overnight treatment, going to cope?”

Councillor Dominic McDonough added he had “major concerns” with the proposed changes and asked how the plans were “futureproofing” the eye hospital when bed numbers were being cut.

Councillors heard that the specialist nature of the eye facility meant it would not be impacted by bed pressures seen in other hospitals caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past 15 months at the eye infirmary, Mr Sutton explained, there were 1.7 patients on average who required a bed overnight, with the maximum ever needed in any one day being seven patients.

Mr Sutton went on to say: “If there was ever an occasion that we needed more than eight inpatient beds, we have facilities at our disposal to open up.

“But we don’t believe we will be in that position in terms of needing those extra beds, but they are there, they’re just designed in a different way because the service has changed over the last 5, 10 and 15 years.

“We will not be cancelling patients because we do not have enough beds.”

Project bosses said that the proposed eye hospital had been futureproofed in other areas in response to expected patient activity – from doubling the number of injection rooms, to building in extra clinic and theatre areas.

Alongside overnight beds, proposals also suggested ‘ambulatory care’ beds which allow treatment of patients without full admission to a ward, as well as ‘recovery rooms’ for patients attending for day procedures.

Mr Sutton stressed that a mixture of bed capacity was needed to create the best facility for patients going forward.

“We’re absolutely confident that we have the right capacity in the new eye hospital in the right place,” he added.

“It won’t benefit anybody if we open 15 inpatients beds and then we have an average of two, that’s not good use of taxpayers’ money either.

“I think we need to open up the right type of facility for our residents and for our patients and that’s a mixture of inpatient beds, day of surgery admission beds and ambulatory care beds.”

All clinical services currently provided from Sunderland Eye Infirmary are expected to transfer to the proposed new eye hospital, which would continue to be home to the Regional Cataract Treatment Centre.

Subject to planning permission being approved later this year, work could start on site in 2022 with a view of opening the new eye hospital during 2024.

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