Residents react in fury over plans to downgrade Grantham Hospital
A move to downgrade Grantham Hospital’s A&E department to an urgent treatment centre has sparked furious public reaction since the Journal broke the news.
The controversial decision was confirmed on Tuesday at a joint media briefing by Lincolnshire NHS trusts about the ‘Healthy Conversations’ public engagement exercise around changes to healthcare in Lincolnshire.
However, health bosses said the downgrade is simply a change of the name, maintaining that Grantham has not had a fully functioning, high level A&E for years.
The urgent treatment centre, which would be run by the Lincolnshire Community Health Service, would provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to urgent care services locally and would treat the “vast majority” of local patients, the trusts said.
However, patients needing medical attention overnight will still need to call NHS111, which will serve as an entry point to the urgent treatment centre during this ‘out of hours’ period.
The move to a 24-hour service will not be immediate – health bosses admit there is no timeframe in which to make this happen, leaving Grantham with a continued reduced emergency service that is closed overnight for the foreseeable future.
At the meeting, senior figures revealed further plans for Grantham Hospital to become Lincolnshire’s elective surgery centre for the county, in a bid to ensure that people from across the county can go forward with operations without risk of cancellation.
They also envisage maintaining medical services at Grantham by adopting a new model of care whereby the hospital services are joined up with local primary and community services and managed as part of the local enhanced neighbourhood team.
Other changes that will be looked at as part of the plans include breast services being centralised at Lincoln or Grantham and the continuation of elective orthopaedic and trauma at Grantham with emergency services under discussion.
Dr Neil Hepburn, medical director at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) – which manages Grantham, Lincoln and Boston hospitals – told the Journal: “There are three activities at Grantham A&E; the walk-in section which provides urgent assessment and treatment, medical beds for the frail, older people and elective surgery, so we needed to change its name.
“I know that it has been frustrating for Grantham but we now have a clear focus and we do still need people’s input.
“It is is a difficult time for staff and my heart does go out to them but it will be a great development opportunity for them as they will be able to upgrade their skill set.
“We need a hospital fit for what is needed today and not 20 years ago.”
The A&E department was closed overnight by health chiefs in August 2016 and its future has been up in the air ever since.
Several protest marches through the town centre were held, while weekly vigils on Wednesday evening by dedicated protesters outside the hospital continue.
Grantham MP Nick Boles has branded the ongoing saga over the town’s A&E a “scandal”.
He added: “That it should remain closed at night two and half years after a ‘temporary’ closure was introduced because of staff shortages is a source of great shame for me as the local MP and supporter of the Conservative government.
“I won’t even try to justify it. I used to believe that a systematic campaign of public protest and private lobbying would be enough to make the NHS restore Grantham A&E to what it was. But we have done it all.”
But Mr Boles said he has held meetings with local NHS leaders and has expressed confidence in their actions.
He said: “If this plan offers the possibility of people being able to receive treatment at our local hospital when they have an accident in the middle of the night, I, for one, am inclined to support it.”
Grantham Hospital campaigners said they are “disappointed” at the decision to downgrade but that it’s not unexpected.
Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital founder Jody Clark said: “It’s disappointing although not unexpected that it has been confirmed we won’t get our A&E back.
“We still believe that our growing town deserves safe local 24-hour services that will meet the needs for future generations to come.
“If its not going to be A&E but the majority of patients can still be seen, then it’s an acceptable compromise for now until we can build us a new hospital in Grantham that has the services we deserve.”
Jody is pushing ahead with a petition to seek “capital funding to build a new hospital in Grantham”, which she believes should be located on the Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, on Somerby Hill, as the site is earmarked for closure to be replaced with housing. Find the petition at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/242302
Councillor Ray Wootten said he would welcome 24/7 urgent care and Grantham to become an elective surgery of excellence, but added: “However, we need to hear more details from the Lincolnshire Community Health Service of how this will work.”
"The launch of the ‘Healthy Conversation 2019’ should be supported, despite the fact that there have been a number of rallies, a 60,000 signed petition delivered to Downing Street and numerous meetings with ULHT health officials.
"I call upon the people of Grantham and surrounding areas to make their voices heard at the public event at the Jubilee Centre on March 20."
Councillor Charmaine Morgan, of SOS Grantham Hospital, criticised health bosses’ description of current A&E services. She said: “It does not reflect the wide range of emergency conditions treated at our local hospital.
“The downplaying of the role of our A&E is misleading and reflects how ULHT handled the night closure of our A&E.”
Nurse Sarah Stock, a Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire campaigner, thinks that replacing A&E with an urgent treatment centre has been the plan all along.
She said: “An urgent care/treatment centre is a massive service change and is most definitely a downgrade.
“Lincolnshire, along with every county, deserves better. It is a very political agenda and those allowing it to happen should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”