Hospital shuts departments over staff shortages

A hospital is set to shut its emergency and maternity departments because of fears over public safety due to "serious" staff shortages, officials confirmed today.

Managers at Queen Mary's Sidcup, in south-east London, said the temporary closures were necessary because there were not enough middle and junior grade doctors, or midwives, to cope during the winter months.

The move came after the NHS stepped in to commission a safety review at South London Healthcare NHS Trust.

Trust chief executive Dr Chris Streather said: ""A clinical safety review carried out by independent senior clinicians commissioned by NHS London across all of our sites, and supported by the Trust's medical and nursing directors, has concluded that there are significant safety risks, particularly in regard to a serious shortage of emergency medicine middle and junior grade doctors, and midwives.

"We can't take a risk that this situation would become unsustainable during the winter months.

"This review makes clear that this presents an unacceptable level of risk to patients and we therefore regret the need to recommend to the Trust Board a planned temporary closure of the A&E and maternity Units at Queen Mary's while the Trust attempts to redress these issues through continued recruitment efforts, and discussions with the deaneries in relation to the provision of junior clinicians.

"We have asked all of our neighbouring Trusts for assistance but none are able to provide the clinical support that is necessary."

The hospital said it planned to close A&E by the end of November and maternity "as soon as safely practical".

Staff from those units will be redeployed to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich and Princess Royal in Farnborough, according to Dr Streather.

Patients living in south east London and Kent are served by Queen Mary's.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Patient safety and high quality care must remain the priority for the NHS.

"The A&E and obstetric services at Queen Mary's should temporarily close while there are concerns that they don't meet the high standards that patients deserve.

"The Secretary of State has pledged that, in future, all service changes must be led from the bottom up by clinicians, patients and local authorities with an improved focus on quality.

"The goal of any change to services must be to ensure patients get the best care possible, delivered to the highest standards in the most effective, efficient and personalised way."

There are 42 vacant posts for midwives, according to the Trust, although the safety review identified potential problems if this increases over the coming months.

For middle and junior grade doctors there is a 50% vacancy rate, a spokesman added.

Around 200 people a day attend the Queen Mary's accident and emergency department while there are around 2,700 births a year in the maternity unit.

Dr Streather said: "We are sorry for the inconvenience this will cause to patients and we fully appreciate the reliance and affection that people in Bexley have for these important services, but we have to have absolute confidence that we can ensure patient safety and the evidence from this review is that we can't make this guarantee.

"We will ensure that patients are fully informed about where and how they will continue to access their local services if these proposals are accepted by our board."