Local MPs have described a ruling by NHS bosses that Grantham A&E department should not be reopened at nights at this stage as “disappointing”, “outrageous and unacceptable”.
NHS Improvement, the body which oversees the country’s NHS Trusts called for an independent review last month when United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust board announced it believed it had recruited enough doctor to reopen all three of its main A&Es despite the staffing situation remaining “volatile” due to reliance on temporary cover.
The report, published this week, recommends that Grantham A&E department is not re-opened overnight at this time.
Mr Boles, who has been pressing the Department of Health alongside Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Dr Caroline Johnson, to get the unit re-opened, greeted the news released today (Tuesday) with outrage.
Commenting on his Facebook page, the MP stated: “The attempt by NHS Improvement to block the reopening of Grantham A&E at night is outrageous and unacceptable.
“As is their plan for a permanent downgrade in the service. What is the point of ULHT’s board if it can’t make decisions based on the judgments of its own chief executive?
“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with NHS Improvement to communicate the anger and dismay of the people who rely on Grantham Hospital.”
Dr Johnson added: “I am very disappointed by this, and I know it will be a blow to local residents and those who are campaigning so hard to keep services open. I met with Nick Boles to discuss this last night, and the matter has been raised again with the Secretary of State for Health. Both Nick and I will continue to do all we can to push for services to be restored, and we will fight against any attempt to remove A&E services from Grantham.”
The Trust Board at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) will meet on Friday at 9.15am at The Reservation in Sleaford to consider whether to follow the independent recommendations.
The department is currently open between 8am and 6.30pm seven days a week. The opening hours were restricted on grounds of patient safety in August 2016 due to a shortage of middle grade doctors across Lincolnshire’s three A&Es.
Last month, following a successful recruitment campaign, the ULHT Board agreed they wanted to re-open the department overnight, but had to accept an independent review of staffing by NHS Improvement.
NHS Improvement asked the East of England Clinical Senate to undertake a safety review for all the A&;E departments in the Trust and to see whether the opening hours at Grantham could be extended.
The senate’s report also recommends that any changes to service provision should be linked to the longer-term plans for urgent and emergency care across Lincolnshire being developed jointly with Lincolnshire’s Clinical Commissioning Groups, which represent groups of GPs, as part of the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) - this is a countywide plan looking at reorganising the way treatment is handled by GPs and NHS trusts in the county.
The report added that the public should be consulted on these plans.
NHS Improvement has urged the ULHT Board to follow the recommendations of the report.
Medical Director at ULHT, Dr Neill Hepburn, said: “Last month, we recommended that the Grantham A&E department be fully re-opened, pending a staffing review commissioned by NHS Improvement. We recognised at the time that the staffing situation is volatile and constantly changing as we are still very reliant on short-term agency doctors.
“The East of England Clinical Senate carried out a full review of the staffing of our three A&E departments, and whilst they commended our innovative approach to recruitment and the great strides we have made in attracting additional doctors, they have recommended
that it would not be safe to re-open the department overnight at present.
“The quality and safety of care is always our top priority, and so our board will consider the full range of recommendations made by the Clinical Senate to ensure that we do the best for our patients.
“We understand this is a frustrating time for our staff and patients in the Grantham area, and we do remain committed to Grantham hospital, but we will only provide services that are safe.”
Sarah Stock, from Billingborough, is a nurse who stood at the last parliamentary by-election in Sleaford as part of the Grantham A&E campaign. She dismissed the latest report, saying its is purely a ‘recommendation’ by an ‘out of county’ clinical senate.
She went on: “Other county hospital trusts who have been through this process have chosen not to follow the recommendations and have been more pro-active in meeting the needs of the population and not been scared off by financial penalties being imposed if services are not downgraded in a timely manner to meet national guidelines.
“I strongly believe this was their intention in August 2016 - to replace our A&E with an Urgent Care Centre, which is very different and a change of contracted service provision.”
She said: “This decision is driven purely by the threat of further financial penalty and patient safety is not their priority. Strings have been pulled to alter the service on ‘safety grounds’,” she alleged, branding it “shameful”.
She called for legal action to hold people to account for their failure to represent the people as they had a duty of care to the ever growing population of Lincolnshire.
Ms Stock said: “The ULHT can make the decision to reopen our A&E, as they do have enough doctors to staff it. Their ridiculous excuse of locums potentially going off at short notice is equally true of many wards, are they going to close those too just in case?”
Jeff Worrall, Delivery and Improvement Director at NHS Improvement, said: “We commissioned this report to ensure that any decision made by the Trust is grounded in expert views on patient safety, which remains our top priority in terms of Lincolnshire’s A&E services. We are confident that the Trust’s leadership are now in a stronger position to make an informed decision in the best interest of patients.
“We will continue to work closely with the Trust, commissioners and other key partners to progress a new model of urgent care for the county, as recommended in the clinical senate report.”
John Turner, Accountable Officer for South and South West Lincolnshire clinical commissioning groups, and senior responsible officer for Lincolnshire STP, said: “We are working with all of our partners to implement the senate’s recommendations. We are also continuing to develop options for the future of A&E services, and are fully committed to consulting with the public about this as early as possible in the New Year.”