The decision to axe funding for a ‘hugely positive’ service which enables children to receive hospital care at home will have a huge impact on families, according to paediatric staff at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

The West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced this week that they were stopping the £450,000 funding for the Countess’ children’s hospital at home service, which enables more beds to be available for young people who desperately need them and helps children to feel more secure by receiving care in their own homes.

For the past three years the service has given hospital staff the opportunity to reduce lengths of stay in hospital and readmissions, as well as enabling parents to be able to ring nurses for advice.

'No cost savings'

But now staff have been told that its funding was being pulled as of this financial year because it ‘hadn’t delivered any cost savings’.

Speaking on behalf of all paediatric staff at the Countess, Dr Ravi Jayaram, consultant and lead clinician for children’s services said the service had had ‘hugely positive feedback’ from children and families and described the latest news is a ‘retrograde step’ in terms of delivering high quality paediatric care in the 21st century.

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“We set this service up three years ago with the idea that the number of children admitted to the ward could be discharged earlier and the team could then go out and give intravenous drugs at home,” he told The Chronicle.

“It means children could be looked after in the comfort of their own home and beds could be used for children who had no option but to be in hospital.

“The reason we’ve been given is because the service hasn’t delivered any cost savings, but it was never intended to do this - only enable us to use the beds we have for children who needed to be in hospital, for example those on IV fluids or oxygen, on a background of an increasing childhood population and increasing demand.”

Consultant paediatrician Dr Ravi Jayaram

Dr Jayaram, who said staff had been given 10 days notice of the change, said parents such as Joseph Fletcher and Laura Carswell, whose six-month old daughter Lilly Mae currently benefits from the service, are ‘devastated’ at the news.

Mr Fletcher, who has organised a petition against the funding cuts, told The Chronicle: “This service is desperately needed. Lilly has chronic lung disease, a horseshoe kidney and a cleft palate, and because of the service, we’ve been able to have her at home, avoiding long stays in hospital, as well as the cost of visiting. It really is going to affect us.”

And Sarah Cross, mum of five-year-old Erin who has lymphoblastic leukaemia, said it was ‘heartbreaking’ that children like her daughter were losing such an important service.

“For Erin, having chemotherapy or bloods taken at home makes it a much better experience, and as a family we can stay in our own home instead of rushing out to yet another hospital appointment,” she explained.

Impact

Dr Jayaram added: “I appreciate the CCG have to balance their budget but they need to look at what they’re cutting and the impact this will have.

“There was no clinical input or impact assessment into this decision and no discussion between the CCG and the Countess’ senior managerial teams - they are looking at this purely in terms of money, not care and we have been given 10 days notice of this change, so there will also an impact on the staff who work for the team.

“I suspect they have been looking for ‘low hanging fruit’ to cut but the impact on our service is going to be huge – the length of stay will increase, we will have to close to admissions and transfer our more often and the experience of children and families will be affected. But they are just desperate to cut.”

Laura Marsh, Director of Commissioning and Transformation at the West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “Unfortunately, the savings anticipated from the Hospital at Home Service when it was established have not been realised and, regrettably neither we nor the Countess of Chester NHS Foundation Trust have been able to identify funding to continue beyond April 30 2016.

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'No reflection on quality of service'

“This decision is no reflection on the quality of the service, which is provided by an excellent and dedicated team of professionals.

“The Trust, the Clinical Commissioning Group and GP colleagues will continue to work together to meet the health needs of our children and young people and support them to access their care in the most appropriate setting, whether this closer to home, or in the hospital,” she explained.

And Lorraine Burnett, the Countess’ Interim Director of Operations, added: “We have started planning conversations with medical and nursing leads for the service to understand the implications of any potential changes so that we can minimise any disruption for existing patients and their families.

“The professionalism, dedication and expertise of the team is second to none. They are advocates of their patients and champions of developing new models of care for children. They take pride in their work, and their service.”

“We will support them in continuing to be able to see their patients in the most appropriate setting, be this at home or in hospital," she added.

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