Army A&E plan axed after uproar

The new Pontefract hospitals A+E department, that does not open 24/7'p7627a204
The new Pontefract hospitals A+E department, that does not open 24/7'p7627a204

HEALTH bosses have ruled out drafting in military medics to staff Pontefract Hospital’s accident and emergency department at night after a controversial proposal to call in the army sparked national fury.

Outraged residents and community leaders spoke of their shock after chiefs at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust revealed they had written to the Army Medical Service to ask for help to reopen the department at night – with the plan hitting the national news headlines and provoking 90 comments on the Express Facebook fan page.

But this week hospital bosses confirmed talks with the military “did not lead anywhere” and there was “no question” of army doctors staffing the department.

The Friarwood Lane unit, which opened at the £60m new hospital last February, has been temporarily closed between 10pm and 8am every day since November 1 because of a shortage of middle-grade rota doctors and safety fears.

A trust spokesman said: “We can now confirm that although some very early stage exploratory conversations did take place, these did not lead anywhere and there is no question of military doctors staffing the department.

“Local people have made it very clear to us that they want the department to fully reopen, and our willingness to consider all options – even those which seem out of the ordinary – is evidence of our desire to find a solution.

“We will continue to ensure that local people receive safe, effective emergency care when required, either at Pontefract between 8am and 10pm, or at Pinderfields 24 hours a day – and we will continue to seek a solution that will enable us to extend the opening hours in Pontefract as soon as we can do so with confidence that patient safety is assured.”

Bosses at the trust said they were looking into using military medics to staff the unit after the idea was suggested by a “critical friend” – commissioned by NHS North of England – to assess if it had explored all options for keeping a full A&E service at the hospital. Army doctors and nurses were drafted in to temporarily plug staff shortages threatening safety at Stafford Hospital in November in what was believed to be a first for the NHS in England.

Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper – who had branded the plan to call in the army as “deeply worrying” – said the trust needed to explain “what on earth is going on”.

She told the Express: “Last week they said they would ask the army for help, this week they say they won’t. Everyone understands that the army is not a long-term solution as they face their own pressures, but the trust still need to pursue every possible option to get A&E reopened overnight.

“The 12,000 people who have signed our A&E petitions won’t be fobbed off – and the government still needs to explain why it has come to this, with NHS hospitals in Yorkshire and Staffordshire unable to provide basic services without army help.”

Chiefs at the trust, which also runs Wakefield’s Pinderfields Hospital and Dewsbury and District Hospital, say they are “willing to consider all options” to restore a 24-hour A&E service at the site. A report to the trust’s board, which will meet tomorrow, said a risk assessment of “different models” for staffing A&E would take place in the next two weeks.

It said: “This will include specific consideration of the combination of an out-of-hours resident GP plus an anaesthetist or junior doctor to allow the A&E department to open as soon as possible.”

The trust has blamed a national shortage of middle-grade rota staff for the closure, but this week the Department of Health denied there was a problem.

A spokesman said: “The number of doctors is rising – we have 3,700 more doctors since May 2010, and the number of those specialising in emergency medicine is going up.”

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