As the first anniversary of the overnight closure of Grantham Hospital’s A&E approaches, hospital bosses have decided to extend it by a further three months.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the board of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) this morning (Tuesday) in Sleaford.
Staffing levels have again been blamed for the continued overnight closure, between the hours of 6.30pm and 8am, seven days a week. ULHT says it has has only 19 middle grade doctors and claims it needs 21 in order to safely reopen the unit 24 hours a day.
However, it was said at this morning’s board meeting that alternative options for Grantham will be looked at, including extended opening hours.
Readers will remember that staff were taken from Grantham’s A&E to prop up struggling emergency departments at Lincoln County and Boston Pilgrim hospitals in August last year, in what ULHT said was a move to improve patient safety county-wide.
The overnight closure in Grantham has led to the formation of campaign groups and several protest marches through the town.
Dr Neill Hepburn, Medical Director at ULHT said: “When the decision was taken last August to reduce the opening hours of Grantham A&E, a threshold of a minimum of 21 middle grade doctors is required to safely staff the three A&E departments at Lincoln, Pilgrim and Grantham. Even if we had 21 doctors, this is still below our ideal number of 28.
“Although the recruitment drive has led to a gradually improving picture in medical staffing, we are currently at 18.6 and have not reached the minimum threshold to open 24/7. The provision of emergency services, particularly at Lincoln County Hospital, continues to remain fragile and requires the support of A&E medical staff, from Grantham District Hospital, on grounds of patient safety. The change to the taxation rules has had an additional deleterious and previously unforeseen effect on A&E staffing.
“We understand the frustrations and concerns of Grantham people and that they want A&E to be open 24/7 but we will only do this once we can safely staff all our A&Es at least eight weeks into the future. We are fully committed to opening A&E but only when it is safe to do so.”
A ULHT spokesman said the trust reviewed the opening hours of Grantham A&E at its board meeting in August and considered the views of the most senior consultants, A&E medical and nursing staff, stakeholders and the public. The spokesman added: “Our own data shows that the healthcare system is still coping with the overnight closure of Grantham A&E and that on the whole the impact has been small in the number of attendances and admissions at other A&Es.
“Our recruitment drive will continue. We are still advertising in the UK and abroad and are working with UK and international recruitment agencies to ensure we recruit enough doctors.
“Before the next review in November ULHT will work with CCGs to explore an interim service model for a 24 hour emergency/out of hours service.”