Hospital campaigners are furious that Grantham’s A&E unit will have been closed overnight for a year by August.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) board announced this week that the unit will remain closed overnight for another three months, meaning that it has been shut at night for 12 months since August 2016.
This will be reviewed again in three months’ time.
ULHT, which was recently put back into special measures, said the opening hours of Grantham A&E will remain 8am to 6.30pm, seven days a week.
It was back in August 2016 that ULHT made the decision to temporarily change the opening hours at Grantham A&E due to a severe shortage of middle grade doctors at Lincoln and Boston A&Es.
The trust says reducing the opening hours of Grantham A&E has allowed it to provide better patient care in Lincoln – where the most serious cases from across the county go. It says it is overly reliant on short- and long-term agency doctors to fill staff rotas and, though not ideal, this was the safest option for the provision of emergency care for the people of Lincolnshire, including those who live in the Grantham and district area.
But local campaigners have slammed the decision. Ward councillor Ray Wootten said: “I am disappointed. They are not listening to the public. I want A&E reopened as soon as possible or at least its hours extended.”
Sarah Stock, of Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire (F4LL), said: “We know that their ‘compromise’ of an urgent care centre overnight, which is what is planned in the leaked Sustainability and Transformation Plans, has always been their end game. The nine months of avid campaigning have simply highlighted their continual denial of this in repetitive and frankly condescending press releases and shows their blatant disregard and contempt of the public who are being misguided every day.”
Fellow F4LL campaigner Melissa Darcey said on Facebook: “This is not acceptable! We need 24-hour life-saving A&E and we need it now. Three months was long enough and now that we are approaching a year – when are people going to wake up and get angry? People have died, and will continue to die!”
Another campaigner, Jody Clark, of Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital, said a few more doctors were being recruited by ULHT but it would be four months before they could join the middle grade rota.
She added: “ULHT have maintained they will open A&E 24 hours when they have 21 middle grade doctors. We will be keeping them to their word.”
Charmaine Morgan, chairman of SOS Grantham Hospital, said the extended closure of A&E was “appalling”.
She added: “It is putting local lives at risk, causing additional pain and hardship to those in need of A&E services at night, especially those without access to public transport.
“Lincolnshire County Council referred the decision to close our A&E unit to Jeremy Hunt after local campaigners raised objections to the closure and highlighted the risks but little progress has been made. It seems that ULHT are determined to keep our A&E closed at night and will not re-open the unit unless forced to do so.
“As a result of the continued delay, SOS Grantham Hospital have revisited the possibility of taking legal action. We are also forming a case to go to the Parliamentary and Health Scrutiny Ombudsman but other avenues must be checked out. After consulting Louise Clack, a local solicitor who has identified a specialist lawyer able to assist us, we will seek to raise £1,500. This will get a comprehensive legal review of the current situation, an understanding of any steps we may be able to take, and, likely outcome from those steps. This is required to enable us to make an informed choice.
“SOS Grantham Hospital are also lobbying Lincolnshire County Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group for a 24/7 hourly bus service to be provided cross country linking Nottingham QMC to Grantham, Lincoln and Boston hospitals and Skegness, where over four million summer visitors have no local access to A&E services.”
ULHT reviewed the opening hours of Grantham A&E at its board meeting in May and considered the views of the most senior consultants, A&E medical and nursing staff, stakeholders and the public. It says its 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.
Dr Neill Hepburn, interim medical director at ULHT, said: “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.
“Although our doctor numbers are higher than in August, we still have 18.6 middle grades for all our A&Es at Lincoln, Pilgrim and Grantham which is below the required number of 21 to have all three departments open 24/7.
“Before we can reopen Grantham A&E, we have agreed with our commissioners and our regulators the minimum number required of 21 for all three departments open 24/7 consistently and safely. Even if we had 21 doctors, this is still below our ideal number of 28.”