A health boss spoke exclusively to The Gazette this week about the emergency closure of a hospital’s rehabilitation unit for the elderly.
The shock decision to shut down the vital service at Gossoms End Community Hospital in Berkhamsted was announced last week, following staff shortages.
Although the closure has been billed as temporary, David Law – chief executive of the Herts Community NHS Trust which runs the hospital – was unable to give any guarantees that the unit would reopen in April next year.
He said: “We need to find the staff. If I could guarantee staffing levels, I would be delighted.
“We have worked very hard to try and recruit for the last six months, and we will continue to work hard to recruit for the next six months.
“But I would be foolish to say there would be a guarantee.”
Mr Law was keen to stress the move was ‘in no way a reflection’ of the unit’s staff, who ‘provide a really good service’.
News of the closure was announced to the unit’s 33 staff members nearly two weeks ago, leaving some feeling ‘stabbed in the back’ – but Mr Law said the Trust tried to avoid ‘raising anxieties’.
Mr Law said: “I understand people’s disappointment. It’s hard for the staff and I understand that they feel very upset about what’s going on, because some of them have worked there for many years.
“We have had to make this decision because it was not sustainable to continue – it’s a no-win situation.”
Mr Law said the decision to close the unit was made ‘at an executive level at the back end of September’, with staff told at the beginning of this month.
He said: “We’ve been having one-to-one, individual meetings with each member of staff and some told us they should have known sooner.
“We took the view that we did not want to raise anxieties, but you can’t please everyone.”
Mr Law was unable to give a definitive closure date for the unit, but confirmed it would close when the remaining three patients were discharged - expected to be in the ‘next few days’.
Staffing levels have been an issue across the Trust’s ‘bed base’ for some time, with 17 vacancies at the St Albans site alone. Mr Law said majority of Gossoms End staff have relocated to St Albans.
The unit has a capacity of up to 20 beds but more recently, only nine of these were filled due to the staffing issues.
Mr Law said six of the nine patients have been either discharged home or supported by the Herts Valley CCG social care department, meaning other units will not have to bear the brunt of the closure.