HEALTH bosses have approved the reopening of Oxford’s community hospital after managing to plug ‘critical’ staff shortages, but cast the long-term future of the service into doubt.

City Community Hospital, based in Headington, was temporarily closed on safety grounds by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the 12-bed ward, on May 31, due to a lack of nurses and other senior staff.

The trust's board of directors met yesterday and heard renewed efforts over the summer to recruit additional workers, including a ward manager and deputy, had been successful.

Members approved the recommendation to reopen and the hospital is now set to start accepting patients again by the middle of November.

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A further four beds are also due to be opened in early January, taking the ward back up to its original 16 beds.

A report by service director Emma Leaver and clinical director Pete McGrane recommending the board reopen the service stated: “The trust had found itself in a position where the ward was heavily reliant on temporary and agency staffing on every shift, therefore impacting on quality and consistency of care delivery for patients.”

It went on to add: “Following a difficult period whereby staffing on the City Community ward was at a critical point, the trust took decisive action to protect patient safety and temporarily closed the ward."

Oxford Mail:

The Churchill Hospital, where the community hospital is based

The report acknowledged there had been 'scepticism' among existing staff about the prospect of the ward reopening but hoped the work on recruitment would aid morale.

Oxford Health chief executive Stuart Bell said at the meeting contingency plans during the closure had given the trust ‘food for thought’ about the future of the Oxford community hospital.

He outlined two other options considered by the trust which 'have merit' – one of which would would see extra beds provided at the county's other community hospitals.

The other would have used the Oxford unit, which is inside the Churchill Hospital, as a base for outpatient care.

He said: "We may well be going back to those options in due course."

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Mr Bell added, however, any changes would be done in collaboration with Oxfordshire’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and include consultation with the public.

Last month Liz Peretz, speaking on behalf of Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire (KONP), said the campaign group feared the hospital would be lost, saying: “Not having a community hospital in Oxford is not an option long term, it leaves a real hole in the city’s care provision."

Wantage Community Hospital , which is also run by Oxford Health, has been in limbo since it was ‘temporarily’ closed three years ago.

The decision to temporarily close the ward was also criticised by Oxfordshire County Council’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, who agreed a motion of no confidence against Oxford Health chiefs in May, claiming there had been a lack of communication.