Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup on the Lewisham border, has announced that it will shut its A&E and maternity departments over the winter as it cannot guarantee patient safety.
In a statement Dr Chris Streather, Chief Executive of the South London Healthcare Trust, which runs the hospital,explained:
“I have been very clear publicly in recent months of our real concerns about the potential risks to patient safety involved in running three emergency and obstetric maternity units as the onset of winter puts additional pressures on our services.
“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.”
Internal concerns about staffing level at the Queen Mary were raised in the summer. A team of experts from NHS London were called in and concluded that the hospital faced three options:
• to shut the units immediately
• to shut them over the coming weeks
• to struggle to keep them open and make it through the summer
However, the conclusion was that, given that staffing levels could not be guaranteed over the winter, patients would be put at risk. There are of 50% vacancies amongst middle grade doctors in A&E at two of the hospital’s three sites, and around 42 vacancies in midwifery, with more anticipated. The previous Labour government had previously planned to close both units permanently as part of its reorganisation of health care in London which led to a recruitment problem at the hospital.
However, Streather insisted that overall the South London Healthcare NHS Trust runs a safe hospital service for its patients, where mortality rates are falling. He paid tribute to Queen Mary’s staff for their hard work through the “enormous uncertainty in the past couple of years” and apologised to the local community:
“We are sorry for the inconvenience this will cause to patients…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.
The departments will close in November, making the nearest choices for A&E and maternity services – both of which often need to be as local as possible – the units at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich and the Princess Royal in Farnborough, both several miles further away. However, Queen Mary’s will continue to have a 24/7 GP run Urgent Care Centre which currently treats about 50% of patients who attend A&E.