Weston General Hospital’s A&E future still unclear despite ‘improving picture’

James Rimmer, chief executive of Weston General Hospital.

James Rimmer, chief executive of Weston General Hospital. - Credit: Archant

It remains unknown when Weston-super-Mare’s A&E department will reopen 24/7, but its top boss is confident ‘good improvements’ are being made.

Weston Area Health Trust (WAHT) chief executive James Rimmer has told of an ‘improving picture’ at Weston General Hospital’s emergency department, which has been operating at reduced hours for more than a year.

A ‘temporary’ closure of the department between 10pm-8am has been in place since July 2017 after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) slated the service, plus a shortage of senior doctors.

Mr Rimmer faced questions from North Somerset Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel on September 20 at Weston Town Hall, where he told councillors there has been progress with the A&E department, but could not offer an update on when it will reopen.

He said: “The department remains closed overnight and our recruitment continues.

“With consultants, the top-level doctors, we have made limited progress, but with the middle grade we have made very good progress, and we think that is key to getting more consultants on board.

“By the end of the year we should have a full compliment of middle-grade doctors.

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“They are coming from overseas so they will take a little while to bed in.”

Mr Rimmer conceded the hospital’s recruitment struggles – which he said have been exacerbated by Brexit uncertainty reducing the appeal for European workers – have lead to a ‘disproportionate’ dependence on agency staff to plug shortages.

He said this has also contributed to a ‘challenged financial position’ – with the hospital required to run a deficit of no more than £12.4million a year.

The chief executive said achieving that will be ‘tight’, with the deficit so far this financial year calculated at £4.4million.

Clevedon South councillor Bob Garner called for ‘more openness’ and said there were examples of ‘misleading notices’ released by WAHT, but his claims were refuted by Mr Rimmer.

The chief executive also updated the panel on the merger of WAHT with University Hospitals Bristol.

He said: “The partnership is alive and well. We are working towards a merger in October 2019.

“We will work together to strengthen our services.”

The hospital meanwhile expects an inspection by the CQC in the not too distant future.