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Another NHS A&E department has been forced to close overnight due to staffing shortages; this time Weston General Hospital’s A&E in Weston-Super-Mare. The department will now close between 22:00 and 08:00 BST in what is currently being billed as a temporary measure, in order to combat the difficulties faced in sourcing enough senior doctors to staff it during the later hours.
The move comes in the wake of a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report which deemed the department’s care “inadequate”, citing the need for “significant improvements”. Medical Director Dr Peter Collins adopted the measure in a bid to boost care standards, describing it as “a very difficult decision”, and one taken because “it is our ability to recruit that is our challenge, not our ability to care”. News of substandard care at any NHS institution is of course dire news for patients, and elevates the risk of needing to pursue medical negligence claims to address unnecessary harm suffered at the hands of an overstretched health service.
Weston General Hospital currently serves a population of around 200,000 people, who will now be forced to dial 999 and await emergency transport to hospital in Bristol or Taunton instead. Public sector workers’ union Unison has labelled the measure “a risk to the people of Weston”, and clinical negligence solicitors are now braced for the effects on a public who risk suffering delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of critical conditions or injuries, and subsequently delayed or inappropriate treatment. One in five patients that might usually visit the department are thought to do so during the planned closure timeframe, exposing approximately 20% of prospective patients to an elevated risk of medical negligence.
The potential for confusion amongst patients as to where they must go in order to seek treatment is also a significant risk factor which could contribute to hospital negligence claims moving forward. The Health Foundation’s Senior Policy Fellow Tim Gardner iterated the following statement to the BBC:
“The sheer number of different routes to urgent care can be confusing, especially when people are scared, or in pain. The public needs more help to understand where to go to get the right treatment at the right time…”
Unison’s Christine Cook expressed worry that some patients will now have so far to travel in order to seek medical assistance, and continued in her statement to the BBC:
“I’m concerned that behind the lack of answers from the trust is a government plan to further downgrade Weston Hospital… “A similar closure in Lincolnshire has been extended to over a year. If that happens here, related departments like the intensive care unit will be affected too.”
Christine’s fears are not unfounded, as Western’s A&E department joins three more closed overnight as an emergency measure to address care concerns:
Cuts to A&E funding are forcing potential closures nationwide, with plans to divert a greater proportion of patients towards clinical assessments obtained by calling 111. The British Medical Association currently estimates that health bosses in 18 areas are considering closing their A&E departments during late night periods. Many more are being forced to consolidate services and others are being replaced altogether with minor injuries units and urgent care centres; which themselves are subject to limited hours.