HEALTH bosses are playing down fears over the future of Halstead Hospital following the announcement of a new “virtual ward” scheme.

The Mid-Essex Clinical Commissioning Group has announced a new virtual hospital ward pilot to help care for patients after they leave hospital.

The idea will bring together GPs, social workers, community nursing teams and other health professionals to support patients in their own home and is based on the success of similar scheme introduced as a part of the response to the Covid-19.

The six-month pilot, which is set to launch on May 17, covers the intermediate care service delivered by Provide Community Interest Company at Halstead Community Hospital, which supports some of the area’s most vulnerable and frail residents.

The group also says treating patients at home helps to protect them from the risk of exposure to Covid-19 and means they are able to maintain close contact with their family.

But some staff were left fearing for the future of Halstead Hospital following the announcement.

Staff from Halstead Hospital are currently working at Braintree Community Hospital to tend to Covid-19 positive patients.

Rumours surrounding the pilot scheme left some concerned about the whether the hospital was now surplus to requirements with the staff being moved to the new virtual ward scheme.

Halstead county councillor Jo Beavis said she was concerned further adult care services and beds could be removed from Halstead.

It came after a nurse said: “Last week we received an email, followed by a meeting, which informed us we will not be returning to Halstead Hospital but we will be having a new role working on virtual words.”

In response, Ms Beavis said: “Adult social care nationally is in crisis. It is the forgotten service and requires greater investment from central government.

“It seems that end of life services are being attacked further, seen as an easy to target reorganisation on the most frail and vulnerable residents in our district.

“I know that the Covid pandemic means that more elderly people are being cared for at home but what happens post the pandemic?

“It seems, unless I can be convinced otherwise, that this pandemic is being used as an excuse to reorganise local adult social care families, staff care and many staff work locally.

“This is what ‘local care’ is. Residents, staff and patients working locally together to provide a comfortable end of life in a familiar and comfortable setting.”

However, the Mid-Essex Clinical Commissioning Group dismissed fears over the immediate future of Halstead Hospital.

A spokesman said: “The virtual ward pilot over the next six months will help us to evaluate and develop our thinking around how we offer such services into the longer term whilst recognising the ongoing impact of the pandemic

“No decisions have yet been made on the long term future of any of our community hospital estate in mid and south Essex.

“If any changes were to be considered in the long term these would be subject to a public consultation process.”