Urgent action is needed to address a shortage in the number of available nursing beds in Hartlepool to avoid a winter crisis.
That is the call to health care providers from councillors and a town health watchdog.
A Hartlepool Borough Council meeting heard the number of available beds in the town for people with high care needs can be as low as single figures.
Members of the council’s Adult Services Committee and Healthwatch Hartlepool group are calling on care commissioners to do something quickly to improve bed numbers.
Councillor Stephen Thomas, who also works for Hartlepool Healthwatch, said: “Throughout the summer the situation has been very much on a knife-edge with regard to provision around the town.
“That will only become more precarious as we move towards the winter months.”
Throughout the summer the situation has been very much on a knife-edgeCoun Stephen Thomas
He added: “It is our belief that given even normal winter circumstances it could lead to a real crisis and we feel there needs to be urgent consideration given to this situation by the clinical commissioning group and act now to ensure we don’t get into a winter crisis around provision.
“It has knock-on effects for individuals, their families but also core acute service provision as beds become blocked within hospitals.”
Coun Thomas said the shortage of nursing beds in Hartlepool first came to light over a year ago when Healthwatch Hartlepool investigated the hospital discharge process.
Among a number of recommendations to improve flaws found in the system was a full review of nursing beds to make sure there were enough to meet demand.
Numbers have also been affected by the closures in Hartlepool of Ascot Nursing Home last year and Admiral Court this year.
Jill Harrison, the council’s assistant director for adult services, said: “It has had a significant impact.”
When asked at the meeting how many nursing beds there was currently in Hartlepool, Ms Harrison said: “It would be in single figures.”
But she stressed the situation changed on a daily and even hourly basis as care services responded to incoming cases.
A later update revealed there were 10 available.
There is no shortage of residential care beds in Hartlepool, Ms Harrison added.
Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which pays for local health services, is due to give some answers to the committee on October 12.
Committee chairman Councillor Carl Richardson said: “The CCG will be there and the council will try to get more information and make them more accountable.
“It is an ongoing problem and may get worse.”
In a statement, the CCG said it is committed to supporting people to be able to live at home for as long as possible and is working in partnership with Hartlepool and Stockton councils to develop a range of services.
Jean Golightly, executive nurse, said: “Whilst the desire to maintain the optimum independence for people is a priority, it is recognized that this can create an increasing demand for these health and social care services, which represents a further challenge for both local authorities and the CCG.
“In support of this approach of providing the appropriate levels of care, the CCG recognises it has a responsibility to ensure a sufficient supply in the residential nursing home market.
“The CCG, Hartlepool Borough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council are working jointly to review current commissioned services and agree an integrated approach to create a sustainable future system that responds promptly to patient needs.”