Campaigners say they are furious that Grantham will have to wait at least another month before the town’s A&E unit can be restored to a 24 hour service.
Today United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust decided it was in favour of restoring a 24 hour service to Grantham A&E, but this is subject to a safety review. The trust will make a decision in December at its next board meeting following that review.
Campaigners say ULHT should have made the decision to go ahead with reopening the A&E unit 24 hours a day immediately, but instead it has decided to defer to NHS Improvement which wants a safety review before the decision is made.
Although it is not obliged to go along with the review, ULHT decided at today’s board meeting that it should go ahead to make sure that all three A&E units under the trust are sufficiently staffed to make the service safe.
Melissa Darcey, of Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire, said: “They have definietely passed the buck. This was predicted when they were put into special financial measures because that means that NHS England and NHS Improvement will come in and make decisions for them. I am angry and frustrated that they are stringing us along again for another month and now moving the goalposts to suit their desires in the future.”
Grantham MP Nick Boles slammed NHS Improvement for their intervention. He said: “I am very disappointed that NHS Improvement has intervened to stop ULHT announcing the reopening of Grantham A&E at nights. I believe their actions are legally dubious and morally indefensible. I will be raising the matter in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity.”
Sarah Stock, of Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire, added: “The contempt for the people of Lincolnshire continues. Public CONsultation is exactly that, a CON. The Walk-in Centre is a perfect example of this and 2018 will see Lincolnshire left unsafe. The CCG, ULHT and LCC are working together on this and are all being held on financial threats and removal of funding if they do not “toe the line” and carry out the cuts being implemented nationally. The conveniently timed CQC Special Measures assists them in pushing through the STP on grounds of “safety”. This is the same format seemingly being worked to across the country.”
Coun Charmaine Morgan, chair of SOS Grantham Hospital, said the public was not being given a true picture of situation. She said: “NHS Improvement was involved in analysis of the original impact assessment which ULHT had to produce when they closed the A&E with only seven days notice. That assessment was unfit for purpose. It stated that there would be no major impact on the population of Grantham if that A&E closed. It was completely misleading and now they are asking us to trust the same body. I have no faith in that process or that body.”
County Councillor for Grantham Barrowby Mark Whittington said NHS Improvement was now calling the shots. “All this is being driven by NHS Improvement so I am sure if we weren’t in special measures the board could have made that decision to reopen today.”
ULHT said that it would not be safe to reopen Grantham A&E 24 hours a day until the trust had 21 middle grade doctors working across its three A&E sites. That figure is currently 22, although the trust says the situation is still ‘fragile’ because a number of those doctors are locum or agency staff and therefore not permanent.
Grantham district and county councillor Ray Wootten said after the meeting: “Being in special measures the ULHT board were between a rock and a hard place. Therefore a decision on reopening Grantham’s A&E overnight closure cannot take place until an independent review of staffing levels satisfies NHSi. I hope a positive decision will be forthcoming at the December board meeting.”
District and county councillor Linda Wootten said: “It is disappointing but not unexpected. Here we go again, more hoops to jump through to satisfy outside bodies. It’s all very well looking at things holistically but, Grantham was a District Hospital and should be looked at as a concern in its own right. The overnight closure of our A&E service has caused great concern and hardship and I look forward to better news at the next meeting.”
ULHT decided to close Grantham A&E overnight in August last year. It is currently open between 8am and 6.30pm.
Jody Clark, of Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital said: “I am pleased the trust now has 22 middle grade doctors. Thank you to them for recruiting in such difficult times. I hope the NHSi review agrees with them that they have enough staff to safely run the three A&E departments and we get the reopening date in December’s board meeting.
“We think its really important to get the doors reopen overnight, especially for the community with no transport.
So we at Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital are pleased with this step in the right direction. We hope to update about community build at the end of the month and currently have a few schools creating beautiful art for the fence (outside the old hospital), so please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you want to get involved.”
ULHT insists it is working hard to fully reopen Grantham A&E, but will not do so until it is safe.
ULHT medical director Dr Neill Hepburn told the Journal: “It’s important that we are able to safely staff and provide a good service across all the hospitals in Lincolnshire and as a result we think we have got there in terms of the minimum numbers although we are dependent on temporary staff. We have 15 substantive staff who are there all the time and seven locum staff who can be here today and they could leave next week. That means the service is very fragile. We are committed to reopen 24/7 but we do need to ensure we are making the right call and we are doing safely. So while we are being given the offer of help and offer of assuarance it would be unwise to turn it down. NHS Improvement have given us a lot of help to move us towards getting out of special measures.
“We could have made the decision to reopen but the problem is that if some of these locum doctors decide to walk next week, then we close it again and that in itself becomes dangerous because we are saying to people come to A&E, it’s open overnight, and then the next week we say it’s closed. We are not here to play games, we are here to get it right and to provide a safe service.
“We will have some more information in a month’s time. It’s a completely independent review. We might be in the same position but I would hope we will have a much clearer answer. Every month that goes by our staff numbers are improving. Perhaps it won’t be 22 and we will have 24 (middle grade doctors).
“We are absolutely doing our best to reopen A&E 24 hours a day. There are two strands of work. There is trying to reopen the service as it was and we are also doing a lot of work with the clinical commissioning groups as to what would be the best service to provide to meet the needs of people in Grantham. As the type of work done in A&E changes the actual model may look slightly different. There is no point in us trying to provide a 1970s service in 2017. We need to move on and provide the best service we can.”