Falkirk Community Hospital: Fire risk wards will remain closed

Four wards in Falkirk Community Hospital that closed due to fire safety fears will not reopen, it has been confirmed.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 17th June 2022, 3:32 pm

The closure means that staff who were temporarily deployed to other areas will not return to their posts – leaving the local health and social care partnership with an underspend of around £2 million.

At a recent meeting of the Integrated Joint Board, which oversees health and social care services, members agreed that unspent cash should be directed toward community care.

The wards – which mainly provided care for elderly and vulnerable patients – closed in 2019 when members of NHS Forth Valley health board were warned that the buildings on the site of the former Falkirk Royal Infirmary were not fit for purpose.

The four wards at Falkirk Community Hospital closed in 2019 Pic: Michael Gillen.

Members of the IJB heard subsequent investigations identified that “the scale of the work required to address the fire risk means that it is not feasible to reopen the closed wards”.

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The wards were always intended to be replaced as part of the masterplan currently being developed for the overall site on Westburn Avenue, Falkirk.

However, that redevelopment is not expected to be operational for several years and the IJB heard that “work is now underway with individual staff, managers, HR, and staff side to engage with individual staff to settle people into permanent positions”.

The potential recurring saving generated from permanent redeployment of the FCH staff into budgeted vacancies in other service areas is in the region of £2.1 million.

While some of these savings are currently being used to offset overspending in other areas, the board was told that the saving presents “a unique opportunity to accelerate a shift in the balance of care by reinvesting an element of these savings in other community-based services”.

High level plans for the community hospital show that it aims to provide better community care, tailoring services towards people living longer and needing more complex support.

The past two years, however, have seen unprecedented demand for community care assessments – and with that rising demand has come a significant backlog.

Spending the money to support people at home in the community, they say, would help to tackle the large numbers waiting for care packages.

Members were told that there is a risk that people who are forced to wait for care packages “will deteriorate” and will end up in hospital “much earlier than if we had been able to support them”.

The scale of the crisis was clear when members heard that 2021/22 will see the highest ever number of bed days occupied by delayed discharges recorded for Falkirk HSCP.

Tackling the problem, members heard, “requires a whole system approach including additional resource in the community and intermediate care facilities”.

Presenting the report, Steven Kirkwood, interim chief finance officer, told members: “Reinvesting an element of the FCH underspend in other community services will ensure care is provided in the right place and at the right time to support people to remain in, or to return to their community during episodes of care, and also to support transfers of care between the community, acute hospital and other bed-based care.”

Officers have been asked to draw up proposals to show exactly how the re-investment would work for consideration at a future IJB meeting.

Councillor Fiona Collie said she said the reinvestment was “very positive”.

“It’s what we’ve been talking about for as long as I’ve been involved in the IJB and Integration – that movement from bed-based care into communities and to the kind of services that will support people to live better lives.”