Hospital moves elderly patients to TV lounges

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ELDERLY patients at a Welsh psychiatric hospital are being 'decanted' into the television lounges and dining areas of neighbouring wards because their beds have been closed.

Parts of the Glanrhyd Hospital at Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, have come to resemble 'refugee camps' since about 20 patients were suddenly moved out of the two wards at the end of last week, according to staff and unions.

'The place is in utter turmoil,' Pat Penpraze, a Glanrhyd ward sister, said. 'Beds and patients are being moved into what were the quiet areas or dining areas of other wards. Staff are very upset and patients, many of whom have dementia, are finding it very distressing.'

Patients are also having to put up with noisy conversion work going on around them, including electric drilling to put up curtain rails on the wards. Convenors representing Cohse, the health union, have accused managers of closing the two wards with 'indecent haste', causing unnecessary anxiety and overcrowding for patients, some of whom have lived in the hospital for 20 years or more.

Dave Galligan, Welsh regional secretary for Cohse, also protested yesterday that staffing levels on the receiving wards have not been increased.

'The place looks like a refugee camp. The management seems to have decided they will try to care for the same number of patients on fewer wards and with fewer staff, so the quality of care will inevitably suffer,' he said. 'There was no attempt to communicate with staff before all this started.'

Cohse portrays the exercise as a cost-cutting drive in an effort to secure government approval for becoming a self-governing NHS trust from next April.

However, Paul Williams, unit general manager for Bridgend hospitals, denied the Glanrhyd ward closures were connected with the hospital's application for trust staus.

He said: 'This current exercise is not about reducing beds or jobs. We are simply trying to get the patient mix right and use staff more effectively. We have patients of varying ages and disability on wards and we are trying to get them into more homogeneous groupings.'

Mr Williams accepted that the changes had been implemented, in some cases, with inadequate preparation, and that some patients had been distressed by the building work.

'We have changed certain functions on the ward. Some wards have a large lounge area and crowded dormitories so it makes sense to switch the functions,' he said.

'There is no cost-cutting at all. This is all about using resources more effectively. What we had was too many patients spread over too many wards.'

He added: 'We are pumping pounds 6m into mental health services in this area this year, and we are fully committed to improving those services and using our resources in the most efficient way we can.'

Managers hope the upheavals will last no more than a fortnight.