Edith Glatter has written to Secretary of State Matt Hancock and NHS chief executive Simon Stevens
Hospital campaigner Edith Glatter is calling for disused hospital beds in Hemel Hempstead to be brought back into use, during the coronavirus outbreak.
Hemel Hempstead Hospital no longer offers acute in-patient hospital services to residents in west Hertfordshire or has its own A&E department.
But Edith Glatter, chair of the Dacorum Hospital Action Group, believes empty blocks on the site of the hospital could provide space for several hundred beds.
And she has now written to Secretary of State Matt Hancock and NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, calling for the blocks and other unused hospital buildings across the country to be brought back into use.
“There are many buildings that have been mothballed which could be brought back into use,” she says in the letter.
“Such a case is that of the West Hertfordshire Hospital Trust (WHHT). There are several hundred-bed spaces in two large blocks lying empty on the site of Hemel Hempstead Hospital.
“If the Chinese can build hospitals in ten days we should be able to bring all the closed wards back into use rapidly.”
She acknowledges that the West Herts Hospitals Trust (WHHT) – which runs Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals – would not be able to fund the work without support.
But she suggests tradesmen who are unable to work at present – such as painters and decorators, plumbers, and builders – or the army could be deployed.
She says it is clear that coronavirus is ‘escalating rapidly’ and suggests that ‘we are very short of beds’.
And she says: “I would hate to see us in the same position as Italy.”
But officials at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust (WHHT) say there is not a shortage of beds across the Trust.
And the buildings at Hemel Hempstead are not being considered as a ‘bed base’ for patient care at this time.
The Trust has already announced that additional high dependency beds and isolation facilities are being created at Watford General for those who have – or who are suspected of having – the virus.
And from next week they say private healthcare provider Spire Bushey will be making their staff, their six theatres and their 60 beds available to the Trust too.
Meanwhile, surgical wards at St Albans City Hospital are being converted to cope with patients who do not need the additional facilities at Watford General, but who are not yet ready to go home.
All non-urgent elective operations at the west Hertfordshire hospitals are being suspended for at least three months – although surgery for urgent and cancer patients will continue, based on clinical assessment.
Commenting on the steps being taken, a spokesperson for West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We have developed clear plans for managing the impact of COVID-19 locally, including postponing non-urgent planned surgery and reducing outpatient services, meaning more of our staff are now able to care for our sickest patients.
“We are also creating additional intensive care beds and providing refresher training on how to care for patients who require support with breathing.
“Our efforts are being given a huge boost, thanks to Spire Bushey who are making their staff, six theatres and more than 60 beds available to us from next week.
“This offer of immediate support will greatly increase the staff and facilities at our disposal to meet the current challenge.”