Hospital puts ban on elderly patients

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The Independent Online
A hospital in west London is refusing to admit elderly emergency patients and has cancelled all non-emergency surgery because it has run out of beds, it emerged last night, as doctors warned of an impending winter crisis in the National Health Service.

Hillingdon Hospital has told family doctors in the north of the borough that it can take no more GP emergency referrals of patients over the age of 75 because 30 acute beds - 1 in 10 of its total - are blocked by elderly people waiting to be discharged into community care. The GPs have been told to refer elderly patients to nearby Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood.

Alfred Morris, Labour MP for Manchester Wythenshawe, called the decision to refuse people medical care on the grounds that they were too old "grossly and unbelievably callous", and he urged Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, to intervene immediately.

Before the NHS changes the northern part of the borough was within Mount Vernon's catchment area, but both hospitals now have contracts with Hillingdon Health Authority and compete for patients.

When Mount Vernon closed its casualty department in April the number of elderly patients referred to Hillingdon increased. Transport services to Hillingdon are better than to Mount Vernon and GPs believe that a hospital with a casualty department has better facilities than one without.

Dr Mitch Garsin, a local GP, said: "I think this is just a precursor for what we are going to see throughout the health service this winter ... Many GPs feel they have a right to send their patients where they want to. The health authority has a contract with both hospitals."

Mount Vernon has said that it can cope for the time-being but doctors fear a "knock-on" effect if the problem becomes long-term or if there is an influenza epidemic in the coming weeks.

Philip Brown, chief executive of the Hillingdon Hospital Trust, said yesterday: "If we take any more of these patients it will start to put a strain on our acute services. We have simply said, look, we'll provide all our normal services to our normal catchment area but for the time being we can't take these referred patients from outside our area."

He said that no elderly person who arrived at the hospital in an ambulance would be turned away but other emergency referrals would be redirected.

Chris Smith, Labour's spokesman on health, said that the Hillingdon crisis was another example of the two-tier NHS which is gripping Britain. "Not only will you not get emergency treatment at Hillingdon Hospital if you are over 75 - you won't get it if you live in the wrong part of the borough, either," he said. "Cash crises like this are an inevitable consequence of the Tories' market-led cuts. Last year there were almost a third fewer NHS beds in London than there were in 1989-90."

Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the British Medical Association, said that the problems at Hillingdon were part of a "broader and gloomy canvas across NHS and community care". He added: "It is quite unacceptable ageism that elderly patients who need care and deserve special consideration should be made to feel that they are bed-blockers. Hospitals and social service departments should not be squabbling over who is responsible for provision for vulnerable people. The budgets are simply too tight overall."

Hospital consultants last week warned that hospitals were close to collapse as the demanding winter period approached.