The palliative care ward at Harborough’s St Luke’s Hospital is to be closed temporarily with some patients being directed to a hospital in Hinckley 26 miles away.
St Luke’s has a total of 34 beds and two wards - a specialist stroke rehabilitation ward (Ward One) and a general rehab and palliative care ward (Ward Three).
The Mail heard about the temporary closure at about 6.30pm today after a tip-off from a patient. No official statements have yet been received by the Mail from the NHS.
But in a leaked memo, seen by the Mail, the NHS refers to staffing and recruitment problems as the reason for the closure.
An extra four beds will be opened up in Ward One and a further four will be made available for Harborough patients at Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital.
In the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust memo, health chiefs refer to the 14-bed Ward Three as offering ‘short-term non-acute care’.
The memo states: “Recently, the number of permanent qualified nurses on the two wards at St Luke’s Hospital in Market Harborough has fallen below the number we deem necessary to maintain a safe and high standard of care for our patients.
“We have therefore taken the decision to temporarily close one ward as an interim arrangement whilst continuing to recruit permanent qualified nursing staff.
“The ward we are closing is a 14-bedded ward and provides short-term non-acute care. To help offset the impact of this temporary closure we will open an extra four beds on Ward One at St Luke’s Hospital and a further four more at Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital.
“Overall there will be a temporary closure of six beds during this interim period.”
The Hinckley site is 26.7 miles away from Market Harborough and it is a round-trip of 90 miles in a vehicle - according to the AA’s route planner.
Health campaigner and Harborough district councillor Phil Knowles said tonight: “I am extremely disappointed at this news. The loss of beds, however temporary, is concerning.
“Harborough continues to expand and situations such as this are worrying. I am extremely uncomfortable at what is arguably an open-ended closure.
“We must be given a target for the reopening of this ward. A date when it is anticipated to be fully-staffed and operational again will at least ensure that we have some commitment that we can hold the NHS to meet.
“We should also not underestimate the additional difficulties that having to use Hinckley Hospital rather than St Luke’s will create for the patients and families.”
It comes just a week after health bosses gave the financial go-ahead for the £7.1million refurbishment of St of Luke’s, in Leicester Road.
Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust chief nurse, Professor Adrian Childs, is quoted in the memo saying: “This decision has been taken so that we can maintain our commitment to deliver safe, effective and high-quality care and to protect patients and staff.
“The challenges we are experiencing in recruiting qualified nurses are recognised both within our own region and also reflected nationally.
“We are working closely with our recruitment team and have a rolling recruitment programme with a number of vacancies advertised on the NHS website.
“We have also changed our interviewing processes to help speed up the recruitment process.
“The length of time the ward remains closed will be dependent on us recruiting qualified staff but, as soon as we are able, the ward will reopen.”
Story by Alex Blackwell.