State-of-the-art A&E unit faces night shutdown

A STATE-of-the-art A&E unit in Yorkshire faces being shut down overnight – just months after it opened.

NHS managers say staff shortages mean they plan to close casualty at Pontefract Hospital between 10pm and 8am as a temporary measure from November 1.

The move comes just a day after they announced the unit could shut altogether next year under a reconfiguration of services at Dewsbury, Pontefract and Wakefield’s Pinderfields hospital.

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The measure – only months after a £66m scheme to revamp hospital services at Pontefract was completed – has been condemned by Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper who branded it an “outrageous betrayal” of local people, claiming 10,000 patients each year faced travelling to Wakefield for urgent care.

“We were repeatedly promised 24 hour A&E here in Pontefract,” said the Shadow Home Secretary. “Now those promises have been ripped up even though the new A&E has only just opened.

“Targets for financial cuts are being put ahead of local patient care after a Government-funded report said closing Pontefract A&E would save £3m.

“Yet no one believes Pinderfields will be able to cope – people were waiting for more than nine hours in Pinderfields A&E this summer.

“Thousands of people have already signed up to the campaign to save A&E because they are furious about these plans.

“We need as many people as possible to stand up and make their voices heard.”

David Hutchinson, of Wakefield Local Involvement Network, which represents patients, said members planned to meet hospital bosses to discuss the plans.

“Whatever is delivered must have patient safety as its primary concern,” he said.

The Mid Yorkshire trust, which runs the three hospitals, said there had been national and local shortages of experienced emergency doctors for some years.

Numbers of vacancies had tripled this year and despite “strenuous efforts” they could not be filled after the end of the month.

Senior doctors, in discussion with GPs, were “reluctantly” recommending hospital chiefs took “immediate and urgent action” to ensure there are enough doctors to provide care safely for emergency patients until replacements were found.

A wide range of options had been considered. Around 20 patients were seen overnight at Pontefract, 30 at Dewsbury and 40 at Pinderfields in Wakefield. The closure at Pontefract would affect the smallest number of patients and ensure the other two units were safely staffed.

Medical director Prof Tim Hendra said: “Our absolute priority is patient safety. We need enough doctors to provide care in our emergency departments and despite repeated efforts we cannot secure enough for all three emergency departments from November 1.”

If the closure plan is adopted, patients requiring emergency care will need to visit or be taken by ambulance to their nearest A&E unit or consider using alternatives including the West Yorkshire Urgent Care Service.

Latest figures show Mid Yorkshire’s A&E performance is failing to meet Government standards, with fewer than 93 per cent of patients seen within four hours since April, although both Pontefract and Dewsbury have hit the 95 per cent national target.

The main problems are being at Pinderfields, where one in eight patients have waited longer than four hours, mainly due to delays caused by a shortage of beds for admitted patients which are some of the longest in the country.

Plans have been made to increase the number of beds at Dewsbury to cope with extra demand. Bosses at the trust also want to shrink its boundaries so patients are treated at alternative hospitals.