MEDICAL care for the elderly in Witney is being stepped up, with the opening of a new unit at Witney Community Hospital in October.

The Welch Way day hospital will provide a home for an emergency multidisciplinary unit (EMU).

It is hoped to be the answer to bed-blocking problems at Oxfordshire’s main hospitals and the growing elderly population in the county.

It will act as half-way house between GPs and hospital accident and emergency departments.

Staff will be able to treat serious medical emergencies, except for heart attacks and strokes.

Oxford Health NHS Trust’s head of community hospitals, Karen Campbell, said: “It’s an exciting thing to happen, because we know it makes a difference.

“We’re hoping the opening will be just in time for when the winter pressures hit the system in Oxfordshire.”

The unit is based on a pilot project at Abingdon Community Hospital, which opened in November 2010 – the first of its kind in the country.

Ms Campbell added: “The success at Abingdon has meant we want to roll it out – Witney will be the next to open.

“This is ahead of the problems with winter. We hope to have it up and running so we can take pressures away from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.”

In December last year, the Oxfordshire University Hospitals NHS Trust was forced to urge patients to stay away from the JR and Churchill hospitals in Oxford and The Horton in Banbury because they could not cope with demand.

The EMU would not turn any patient away but its key role will be to care for elderly patients – the average age of those treated in Abingdon is in their 80s.

A new assessment centre, with five beds, physiotherapy room, treatment room, isolation room and kitchen, is to be set up at the Witney hospital.

The unit would be able to use beds in the hospital’s two 30-bed wards for inpatients if needed.

An ambulance will also be based at the hospital in case of any emergency cases which need to be transferred to Oxford.

Dedicated staff for the unit will include a doctor, seven nurses, a physiotherapist, two occupational therapists and a social worker.

Blood tests, electrocardiograms (ECG), electrical heart rhythm monitors and x-rays will be among the tests available at the hospital.

Witney town councillor Brenda Churchill – who is disabled with osteoarthritis – goes to the JR for treatment.

She said: “If it’s going to improve services for the elderly and disabled, I’m all for it.

“It’s a problem at the moment with the ageing population and there are a lot of disabled people in the town, so if we could have somewhere like that, rather than going to the John Radcliffe, that would be great.

“It’s very difficult and expensive for patients and relatives but you can park for free in Witney.

“As long as it doesn’t take the current services away, I would welcome it.”

Services such as balance and safety classes currently run at the day hospital in Witney will continue elsewhere at the hospital site, until a permanent base is found.

Only minor alterations like moving walls and installing sinks are needed to set up the unit – which is due to be completed in time for the unit to open towards the end of October.

Most patients are expected to be referred to the Witney unit by their GPs, but patients could also be taken straight there in ambulances by paramedics.

At the moment Oxfordshire Health NHS Foundation Trust is deciding whether the unit will just serve Witney, or whether it will cover parts or the whole of West Oxfordshire.

The unit is being funded as part of an £18m investment in Oxfordshire announced earlier this month by the Department of Health and the National Institute for Health Research.

Similar emergency units will also be opened at the JR and The Horton under the scheme.