Q&A: Weston General Hospital A&E closure - everything we know so far

PUBLISHED: 13:25 15 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:04 15 June 2017

Weston General Hospital.

Weston General Hospital.

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Weston General Hospital's A&E department will close overnight from July 4. Here is everything we know about when and why the decision to close it has been made, how healthcare services will cope, and what could happen to the department in the future.

Why is the A&E closing overnight?

The hospital announced its A&E department will close on July 4 yesterday (Wednesday). The hospital’s chief executive James Rimmer told the Mercury the A&E has been ‘fragile’ for years, largely due to the fact the hospital struggles to recruit senior doctors for its emergency department.

The hospital was inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which then issued it with a formal warning after finding serious failings in the quality of care at Weston General. The CQC rated its emergency services as ‘inadequate’ and ordered the hospital to overhaul the failing department.

As a result, the hospital’s board made the decision to temporarily close the department between 10pm and 8am every day, starting from July 4.

The hospital’s new medical director Dr Peter Collins said: “This is a very difficult decision, but the right one. The risk of not filling a shift with specialist doctors, vital to safe patient care, is unacceptably high. This is also not just an issue about the number of staff on duty at any one time; we need a permanent team to lead and develop our urgent and emergency care service to make it the best it can be for patients.”

Mr Rimmer told the Mercury the hospital will now look to ‘re-build and re-develop’ the department while it is closed.

When is it closing?

The closure will begin at 10pm on July 4.

What time will it be closed?

Weston General Hospital’s A&E department will be closed from 10pm to 8am each day.

When will it reopen?

The hospital’s chief executive, James Rimmer, said he does not know when it will re-open, but said it is ‘highly likely’ the emergency service at the hospital will look different in the future.

When was the decision to close it made?

News of the A&E’s temporary closure came just days after hospital bosses promised no ‘long-term changes’ will be made to services at the hospital without full consultation with patients and the public’. The future of the NHS was a key General Election battleground, and the timing of this announcement – days after voting – has prompted criticism.

However, hospital chief executive James Rimmer says the decision was only taken on Tuesday, in the wake of the CQC findings being released to him on Friday. He said: “We all considered it on Monday evening and decided our action first thing Tuesday morning, briefed staff, and put out a press release.

“At no stage would we want to mislead the people of Weston. What we said then is still the case; no long-term changes can happen without public consultation.”

He added that ‘contingency planning’ had been taking place on emergency closures, adding: “Staff need to be involved in that contingency planning, so it has not been a secret.”

Whose decision was it to close the A&E at night?

The hospital’s board made the decision to close the A&E overnight, following a damning inspection report from the CQC.

The report said there was a ‘lack of support’ for the A&E from other departments in the hospital, there was a ‘critical over-reliance’ on locum doctors in senior positions, and it also found ambulances had to wait too long to discharge patients.

READ MORE: Weston General Hospital A&E: ‘It’s essential closure is temporary’ – MP John Penrose

But weren’t there plans to scale it back anyway?

North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) had recently spent eight weeks asking for public opinion on four ideas to change the hospital.

One of its ideas included scaling back Weston-super-Mare’s A&E at night. Under this plan, the doors of the A&E would remain open but emergency patients would be taken directly to Bristol or Taunton via ambulance.

The CCG is still collating its report on the public response to its ideas, and the hospital maintains a long-term decision on the A&E’s future has not been made.

Will anything else change at the hospital?

No. The A&E department is the only part of the hospital which will be affected by this change.

Where do I do if I need to go to A&E?

In a serious, life-threatening emergency, people should call 999. The ambulance service will then take them to the closest hospital.

If anyone is feeling unwell and needs urgent care they should call 111. The service runs 24 hours a day and trained advisers or nurses will assess your symptoms over the phone and provide advice on where to go and what treatment to seek, this could mean they are referred to an out-of-hours GP, or to overnight community care services.

Where will people be taken by ambulance?

The majority of patients will be taken to Bristol, but some people will be taken to Taunton.

Will there be enough ambulances to cope?

Additional ambulances will be put on in Weston, to cope with any additional demand due to increased journey times to and from Bristol and Taunton.

If I’m admitted to a different hospital, will I be transferred back to Weston?

Possibly. The hospital has said it will transfer people back to Weston as soon as they are fit enough to continue their treatment and recovery there. Usually, this is within two to three days.

How many people will the closure affect?

Around 27 people attend Weston General Hospital’s A&E department every night. Of those, around 12 arrive by ambulance and six are typically already transferred to another hospital.

There are normally around 15 people who go to A&E in Weston every night who do not have life-threatening or serious conditions, but require urgent treatment. These people are being told to dial 111 for advice.

Around 80 per cent of the hospital’s patients will not be affected by the closure.

What has been the reaction so far?

Weston-super-Mare MP John Penrose said it is ‘essential’ the closure remains temporary, while critics hit out at the hospital for ‘deliberately misleading’ the public on changes to the department and Tim Taylor – who stood for the Labour Party in the General Election – vowed to campaign against the decision.

READ MORE: Weston General Hospital’s consultants say 24-hour A&E must remain in the town

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