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Bed Pressures at Spinal Cord Injury Centres

The summer of 2018 was the hottest for 40 years – and yet, during that period, the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville had nearly 15 beds closed due to ‘winter bed pressures’. And worryingly, this Centre is not an isolated case.

At the time of writing, 18 beds (out of 60) have been closed at The Princess Royal Spinal Cord Injuries Centre in Sheffield to meet winter bed pressures. Sources at the Yorkshire Regional Spinal Injuries Centre at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield have told SIA that 8 beds (out of 32) have been used this winter for medical outliers from elsewhere in the hospital. Last year this figure reached 16 – reducing the Centre’s capacity by 50%.

SIA conducted a Freedom of Information request in 2018, the results of which clearly showed the extent to which SCI Centre beds were being used by non-SCI patients. Those Centres situated in orthopaedic or rehabilitation hospitals without A&E Departments – Oswestry, Stanmore, Rookwood – are apparently unaffected by the issue. However, for those Centres with an A&E Department, bed usage by non-SCI patients amounted to hundreds of days in the 4-month period from 1 November 2017 to 1 March 2018.

These bed closures don’t just impact on access to specialist services for SCI people, they also lead to blockages elsewhere in the NHS. Data from the National SCI Database showed that in 2016/17, 74% of SCI people were referred to SCI Centres from Major Trauma Centres (MTC), specialist hospitals responsible for the care of the most severely injured patients. A large proportion of those waiting for a bed in a SCI Centre will be occupying a bed in an MTC. This leads to reduced capacity in MTCs, who are likely to be dealing with patients with higher needs (and at a much higher cost) than those going through local A&E Departments.

On top of this, NHS England conducted a Service Review of specialist SCI services in 2016. It concluded that even if the eight SCI Centres in England were operating at full efficiency, an additional 54 beds are needed to fully meet the requirements of the SCI population. Despite this, beds have continued to be closed locally as Trusts struggle to meet the needs of their non-SCI population.

It is immensely frustrating to see such inefficiency, the cost to the NHS and the human cost to those unable to access SCI Centres. There remains no clear indication from NHS England or the host Trusts as to how they plan to address these issues. There is also no oversight of the issue, or recognition of the effect bed closures have on the treatment of SCI people, their life outcomes and the needless pressures it exerts on the wider NHS.

Have you been told that your SCI Centre can’t treat you due to bed closures or insufficient beds being available? Do you know other people who’ve been affected by this issue? Please let SIA know about your experiences, especially if you haven’t been able to get treatment at your Centre this winter, by emailing the Public Affairs Team at [email protected]

It is no secret that the NHS is witnessing unprecedented demand on its services, with insufficient staff and funding to meet the needs of the wider population. We rely on our members to let us know what is going on locally and how people with a SCI are affected, so we can continue to challenge and campaign for better services for our members. Thank you for your support.