United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) board will meet on Tuesday to consider whether to reopen Grantham A&E 24 hours a day over the winter.
This decision comes after news that more staff have been recruited by the Trust to make running all three of the county’s main A&E departments viable and safe after having to close the Grantham department at nights for over a year due to staff shortages at Lincoln and Boston.
But any decision by the Trust board will then be subject to NHS Improvement approval as part of its A&E staffing review which will be carried out over the next month.
In a statement today, ULHT insists it has always remained committed to fully reopening the A&E as soon as it is safe to do so, and over the past year they have been working hard to recruit and retain doctors.
The Trust statement said: “We have been successful in securing the employment of more permanent, locum and agency middle grade doctors, which increases our numbers to 22 - slightly above the minimum of 21 middle grade doctors that we need to safely staff the three A&Es. Although this takes us over the minimum threshold, staffing rotas in the long-term still remains very challenging.”
Neill Hepburn, Medical Director said: “The staffing situation is volatile and constantly changing as we are still very reliant on short-term agency doctors, many of whom only work occasional shifts. There is also a shortage of A&E nurses, which is placing pressures on an already creaking service.
“Before Grantham A&E can reopen, we need to be confident that we can staff rotas for at least 12 weeks. This is to avoid the scenario of reopening A&E one day, to then close the next day due to a lack of staff.
“However, as we have 22 middle grade doctors, the Trust’s executive team and clinical management board are both recommending that the Trust Board agrees to reopen Grantham’s A&E to help Lincolnshire’s NHS services cope this winter. The board will formally consider whether it is safe to fully reopen on Tuesday.
“If the board agrees to the reopening, the decision will then be subject to NHS Improvement approval before any changes happen. NHS Improvement has advised that they expect their review of A&E staffing to be completed within a month, so opening hours will remain 8am to 6.30pm until further notice.”
Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Caroline Johnson has been an active campaigner to get the A&E service re-opened and commented: “Last August (2016) when the department closed for safety reasons due to staffing levels, we were told clearly that once further staff had been recruited and they had enough middle grade doctors, the department would be re-opened. That is a message which has been consistently repeated and I am very pleased, following a vigorous recruiting drive, they have recruited enough doctors and I look forward to Grantham re-opening at night as soon as possible.”
Sarah Stock, a nurse from Billingborough who is a campaigner for Grantham Hospital A&E to be reopened under the banner Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire added a note of caution.
She said: “Whilst there appears to be good news coming about the re-opening of the over night A&E, campaigners remain sceptical as to the level of service to be offered and for how long that service will remain in place.
“The Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, although rejected unanimously by the Lincolnshire County Council, suggests a downgrading of several services across the county, including Grantham A&E.”
She added: “As a nurse, I beg to differ. It does matter what the ‘service’ is called and it does matter what the ‘service’ actually is.
Prior to the overnight closure we had a fully functioning level 1 A&E, with resuscitation facilities. That is what we expect back, not a GP or nurse-led ‘service’.”
She said: “I am meeting MP Nick Boles on December 1 and have plenty for him to take back to Parliament and to his fellow MP’s around Lincolnshire. If anyone has any NHS related stories or comments they wish me to share with him, please ask your readers to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org .”