SLAP bang in the city centre, the “stylish” Leonardo Hotel bills itself as “the perfect home from home”.
But for many of its current residents, it is a lot more than that — it is their hospital ward.
A Sun investigation has discovered that a quarter of the Leonardo has been taken over by the local health authority to ease a chronic shortage of capacity.
The city’s huge Derriford Hospital has become so desperate for beds that health bosses have been forced to lease rooms on two floors of the hotel.
Guests at the £60-plus-a-night Leonardo have found themselves cheek by jowl with patients in dressing gowns and pyjamas.
Some have told how medical staff in hospital scrubs are seen around the 247-bed hotel’s public areas.
One 67-year-old resident who was paying more than £90 a night for a room told us: “I was told on check-in I couldn’t use the fourth floor and I presumed it was because it was being refurbished.
“But on the second night of my stay, a lady got in the lift with me and pressed the button for the fourth floor.
“I pointed to the sign which said it was out of use and I said, ‘Guests can’t use it’.
Most read in The Sun
“She replied that she wasn’t a guest. Her dad was a patient at the hospital on the fourth floor.
“I was shocked but she went on to explain that Level Four was an overspill ward for the local hospital.
“Not once on check-in or when I booked did anyone mention to me that it was being used as a hotel and a hospital at the same time.”
Alongside a five-star review, another recent resident, Brian Masters, posted: “Comfy rooms, good breakfast and friendly staff.
“It appears to have turned into a hospital on a couple of floors, with ambulances regularly turning up and dropping off.”
On Tripadvisor, another guest, Martin H, from Brentwood, Essex, wrote of his time at the Leonardo last month: “We stayed for two nights out of the three we booked for.
“When checking in we were told the restaurant was shut, but we could eat in the bar.
“Meals were going up to the floors from the ‘closed’ restaurant and medical staff were seen going up and down the lifts.
“ ‘Guests’ were walking around reception in pyjama bottoms and slippers.
“Every time we asked a member of staff what was going on we got a different answer, including, ‘It’s a secret!’
“We checked out a day early in the end and asked for a refund.”
Patients have been put up in 40 rooms on the fourth and fifth floors of the hotel since October.
This week research by the Lib Dems revealed that ambulance response times to 999 calls in Devon were the worst in the country, as a result of the hospital bed shortage.
The lack of beds means ambulance crews have to wait for patients to be admitted to hospitals in the county, and the knock-on effect on response times has made them the slowest in Britain.
In a bid to release beds, NHS Devon booked levels four and five of the eight-storey hotel, which last week changed its name from Jury’s Inn to Leonardo’s.
On the day The Sun visited we saw patients in dressing gowns going into the hotel’s back entrance.
A delivery driver, who did not want to be named, said the hotel’s food delivery order had increased fourfold.
Another driver delivered more than two dozen chairs to the hospital.
The NHS faces a major problem with so-called bed-blocking.
Around one in ten hospital beds is occupied by patients who cannot leave because there is no place for them in the care system.
Average wages of £9.50 an hour mean care workers are quitting to take better-paid jobs in supermarkets.
Last year 50,000 care workers quit their jobs, in the first decline in numbers in a decade.
There are now 165,000 vacancies in adult social care in Britain — that’s one in 11 posts remaining unfilled.
The care crisis has had a knock-on effect in the NHS, where there are not enough beds, causing chaos in accident and emergency units, which in turn means patients have to stay in ambulances.
New NHS figures released on Thursday show 3,000 patients a day in England and Wales are now waiting more than 30 minutes in ambulances outside A&E departments because hospitals are so full, the worst performance on record.
Last week one in seven patients endured a one-hour wait.
But Health Secretary Steve Barclay has vowed that cutting ambulance waiting times will be the “number one” priority for the NHS this winter.
The Lib Dem survey revealed that ambulance services in West Devon, Mid Devon and the county’s South Hams area have the worst response times in England — twice the recommended seven minutes for the most serious Category One emergencies, which is when there is an imminent threat to life, such as a suspected cardiac arrest.
Health expert Natasha Loder said of the Leonardo scheme: “The NHS is under great pressure to get patients out of hospitals, so that is where this creative thinking is coming from.
“Local authorities who run social care are having to put people somewhere, somehow, like putting patients from hospitals into hotels.
“Their funding has fallen by half in real terms since 2010.”
In last month’s Autumn Statement Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged an extra £7.5billion for social care over two years.
And a pot of money has been set aside to get patients discharged from hospitals this winter, which is likely to lead to many more being put into so-called “care hotels” like the Leonardo around the country.
NHS Devon confirmed that the Leonardo has been used as a care hotel since mid-October.
A spokesman said: “Care hotels do not contain hospital patients.
“They are used to provide social care for people who are medically fit and do not require hospital care but do need additional living support after a stay in hospital, or to prevent them from needing to be admitted.
“Care hotels are just one of many positive measures health and care partners have put in place to reduce pressure on busy health services this winter. Care hotel guests are on separate floors to hotel guests.
“Support is provided by a Care Quality Commission-registered care agency, which complies with all infection prevention and control measures, protecting both care hotel and hotel guests.”
It is not the first time health bosses have used a Plymouth hotel to ease pressure on hospitals.
Since January last year they have been using the city’s Future Inn to carry out blood tests on NHS patients.
Signs there direct patients to the Phlebotomy (blood) Department.
In February this year Lesley Horn, a care worker at the Future Inn, claimed that clinical waste had been stored in a bathtub on the residents’ floor and that there was a lack of accessible showers for patients who had been transferred there from hospital.
She said bin bags filled with faeces and urine-soiled materials were stacked up there.
She added: “You open the door and it was, ‘Oh, my God, you are kidding me? The smell’. And this was not according to the infection control guidelines. It’s not on.”
Last night a spokesman for the Leonardo Hotel said: “As a policy we do not comment on any guests staying at our hotels.
“However, our guests’ stay and experience would never be impacted by any individual contracts or arrangements we have.”
- Is there an NHS hotel in your town to ease the bed crisis? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.