Safety fears have been raised over longer journey times to hospital after the temporary closure of an A&E department to critically-ill patients.
A staffing shortage means NHS bosses decided it is not safe to continue treating the most seriously-ill people at the emergency department at Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.
It means around 10 per cent of A&E patients currently treated in the town will be taken to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough or Darlington Memorial Hospital, both around 30 minutes away by car.
Bosses at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said a shortage of anaesthetists was behind the move, which will be reviewed in six months’ time.
Richmond MP Rishi Sunak said: “I am frustrated that managers have had to resort to an emergency measure like this when the difficulties with the recruitment of certain doctors have been known about for over a year.
“Obviously, patient safety has to come first so I understand why the Trust has acted. But it is concerning that this situation has arisen in the first place and developed so suddenly because of the trust’s inability to recruit a handful of doctors.”
The NHS trust has estimated that up to 12 patients a day will be diverted from the hospital in Northallerton.
A spokesperson said: “The majority of services at the Friarage will remain unchanged, with around nine out of ten patients continuing to be seen there, including outpatient clinics and planned day surgery which make up the majority of the services.
“The trust will assess the appropriateness of all 999 and GP emergency activity prior to patients arriving at the Friarage.
“All complex critical-care-dependent surgery will be undertaken at James Cook University Hospital, where patients with major trauma and serious illnesses, such as stroke, head or spinal injuries are already treated.”
During the temporary closure, the Friarage A&E will be classed as a 24-7 Urgent Treatment centre, NHS bosses said.
Dr Charles Parker, of NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which controls the local health budget, said: “We are disappointed that workforce pressures have resulted in this temporary service change and support the trust in their decision to make these changes as a result of significant safety concerns. We are working with the Trust, local GPs, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service and other system partners to ensure the impact of these changes is minimised for the majority of people.” Warnings have been made that move is just the latest in a series of health service cuts for residents of a 1,000 sq mile area of rural North Yorkshire served by the hospital.
News of the temporary closure was greeted with dismay at an emergency meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee.
Councillor Mark Robson, leader of Hambleton District Council, said the announcement was similar to that made when the Lambert Memorial Hospital in Thirsk was closed by NHS bosses on patient safety grounds, which also cited an inability to attract staff.
He said: “It concerns me that closing these beds is the thin end of the wedge. To close a ward down and then go out to consultation is the wrong way around.”