Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital is on ‘black alert’ as it faces up to a big strain on services - yet one ward has remained closed for more than a year.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, which runs the Pilgrim, is pleading with patients to only use A&E departments in the county if absolutely necessary - with the ‘alert’ reflecting the highest level possible for how many patients it is currently having to treat.
However, despite the big demand, The Standard has learned that a 28-bed ward at Boston’s hospital shut more than a year ago.
Ward 8B is supposed to cater for cardiology and diabetes patients, yet is said to be empty and unused.
A spokesman for the trust confirmed that the ward, on level 8 of the tower block, has been closed for about 14 months and said there is not a problem that is keeping it shut – but was not able to say why it could not be used now.
It was suggested that there may be a problem that required costly repair work that was keeping the ward from being used but this was denied by United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, which runs the site.
A spokesman instead said staff had been moved to other departments or wards and that it was all ‘part of the plans’.
They were unable to provide a specific reason for the closure of ward 8B, or a date that it may be re-opened.
A source at the Pilgrim Hospital told The Standard: “That’s a 28-bed ward at the hospital that is completely and utterly empy. It’s an awful lot of beds.
“Even if they just temporarily re-opened it then that would make a difference.”
The source added: “There may be patients in ICU (intensive care unit) who are fit to go to a ward but there’s no bed for them to go to.”
They added that it was ‘unacceptable’ for the trust not to provide a full explanation for not using the ward, adding: “Somebody knows why it is not open. The public have the right to know what the plan is.
“If they say they don’t know why it is closed then that worries me even more.”
The source raised concerns that political parties will spend the next five months bickering about the NHS in the lead-up to the elections, thus putting any real action to fix issues such as those at the Pilgrim on hold until later in the year.
The source also hit out at the explanation for the recent strain on hospital services in the area.
They told The Standard: “They call it winter pressures but it’s poppycock - it’s all year round pressures now.”
The chairman of the health scrutiny committee at Lincolnshire County Council, Christine Talbot, was not aware of the closure of the ward when approached by The Standard.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust was placed in special measures by health minister Jeremy Hunt in 2013. It aimed to be out of special measures last year but, while inspectors noted improvements had been made, it still remains under the grading.
Bosses have also warned that they expect the trust to have a £26 million deficit this year and without reform that would rise to £105 million by 2018. It says ‘doing nothing’ is not an option.
However its five-year plan mentions ‘centralisation of care’, concentrating on specialised urgent care on ‘fewer sites’.
It says both Boston and Lincoln’s maternity units are ‘under the nationally recommended numbers’ for their size.
As yet discussions on the detail for how the deficit is to be addressed have gone on behind the scenes, with further detail promised this year.
If the county’s hospitals get much busier the trust may choose to declare a ‘major incident’ and shut their doors to all bar life-threatening cases, something that was not yet the case at time of press.
The trust had already asked staff to cancel their holidays and come in to help out over a busy Christmas and New Year period.
The Standard and its sister titles have called on the trust to protect the Pilgrim Hospital services as it looks to plug a big budget black hole - with the whole of the county’s NHS facing up to a £365 million deficit.
At time of press more than 400 readers had sent in coupons expressing their support for saving the services at the Pilgrim.