Three doctors and five locum doctors have been taken on by the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) in recent weeks, bringing the total close to the level which should see Grantham’s A&E department reopen 24 hours a day.
Although the current total of 19.6 middle grade doctors is only just shy of the 21 needed across its three A&E’s for ULHT to consider reopening the town’s unit, several are agency doctors and so carry the risk of leaving at short notice.
Jan Sobieraj, ULHT chief executive, said: “To ensure we provide a safe service for Grantham people, it’s important we aren’t in a situation where we reopen A&E one day and then need to close again the next week due to agency doctors leaving. We need services to be safe and sustainable.
“Before we can reopen Grantham A&E we need to be confident that we can staff rotas with some certainty for at least eight weeks in the future. There is a national shortage of A&E doctors, and ULHT is really affected by this. We are overly reliant on short- and long-term agency doctors to fill rotas.
“While we are working hard to recruit doctors to work longer contracts, the reality is agency staff have the pick of places to work and often can leave a placement at short notice. In agreement with commissioners and our regulators, we agreed on setting the threshold of having a minimum of 21 registrars as this will help us to staff three rotas consistently and safely.”
Mr Sobieraj added that ideally the number of registrars (middle grade doctors) is 28, for which ULHT has funding.
Night-time closures – between 6.30pm and 9am daily – were brought in at Grantham’s A&E department on August 17 last year, due to a shortage of staff at ULHT’s hospitals in Lincoln and Boston. What was initially a temporary measure for three months was extended in November until at least February/March this year.
The move led to two protest marches by campaigners, with another planned for next month.
District and county councillor Charmaine Morgan is chairman of SOS Grantham Hospital (SOSGH). This week she called for emergency unit to reopen now, saying: “A recent report in a medical journal indicates staffing levels across the region are low with A&E departments continuing with two middle grade doctors, including Manchester Hospital.
“Given that the loss of two middle grade A&E staff members triggered the closure of our A&E at night, this good recruitment news should mean that Grantham A&E can now reopen if ULHT are to stand by their word. Especially as we also know previous guidelines quoted by ULHT set by the College of Emergency Medicine are highly unrealistic given the national picture.”
Grantham MP Nick Boles told the Journal it is “good news” that ULHT has had success in recruiting more doctors, adding: “I’m hopeful that the A&E can re-open. Of course there are other factors, in that it’s not just a numbers game but also the level of experience of the staff and other things, but signs look good.
“I obviously want to know more so I’ve asked the trust for a full update on their staffing and their current position, and we already know that they plan to review the situation with opening hours in February. Ultimately, they’ve made a promise that they will open when they have the staff, and we will hold them to that promise, so I look forward to reading their answers to my questions and I’m positive about the future. I will of course be pressing them to re-open 24/7 as soon as it is safely possible.”
Leaders of both South Kesteven District Council and Lincolnshire County Council have previously called for Grantham’s emergency unit to reopen.
This week, leader of SKDC Coun Bob Adams said: “We are encouraged to hear that the ULHT has been successful in recruiting additional middle grade doctors across its three sites and hope this will lead to the re-instatement of a full 24-hour accident and emergency department in Grantham.
“As a council we will continue to push for provision of high quality hospital services for this town and its surrounding area. Grantham is growing fast and our medical facilities need to keep pace with that growth.”
Leader of LCC Coun Martin Hill added: “ULHT have committed to reopening Grantham A&E 24 hours a day before the end of February and the county council is expecting them to deliver on that.
“Grantham should have a hospital which is accessible all the time and as soon as that can be achieved, the better.”