Weston A&E closure: What is really happening behind the scenes?
PUBLISHED: 06:40 21 August 2017
It has been six weeks since Weston General Hospital's A&E closed overnight on safety grounds, and while its bosses insist the closure is temporary, others believe it will never re-open fully.
Hospital bosses say they are working hard to recruit the doctors they need to reopen the Weston-super-Mare emergency department at night and new plans are also being worked on which will mean some patients can be admitted at night without going through A&E.
But many Westonians believe the A&E will never fully re-open, as critics question how much is being done behind the scenes to restore Weston’s emergency department.
Coping with the closure
Weston Area Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, decided to close its A&E between 10pm and 8am from July 4 after it was found to be inadequate and unsafe by the Care Quality Commission.
Many raised concerns about the pressure this would put on other NHS services, but director of operations at Weston General, Phil Walmsley, told the Mercury the system is coping well.
MORE: Why did Weston General Hospital’s A&E close overnight?
Around nine ambulances a night have been taking patients to Bristol or Taunton.
Mr Walmsley said: “We have put on quite a lot of additional resources to cope with the closure.
“We have started to retrench some of those resources because they are not being used – we are starting to pull back on them, cautiously.”
The plan to re-open A&E
The main issue at the hospital is the lack of emergency department staff.
There is a nationwide shortage of A&E doctors and at the time Weston’s A&E closed overnight, only 56 per cent of its doctor posts were filled.
The Trust says it will not re-open until staffing levels are at 80 per cent.
Mr Walmsley said: “We continue to struggle to make sure the rotas in the day work.
“It’s been more than a year since we were close to that 80 per cent level.
“For our nurses, we are about there. Where we struggle is with consultants and middle-grade doctors.”
The hospital needs 23 A&E doctors but when the closure was introduced, it had 13. It has since recruited three additional doctors, but 31 per cent of the roles remain vacant.
Mr Walmsley said: “We are not holding our breath hoping we will find five or six middle-grade doctors and a consultant in a cupboard somewhere.
“We are looking at the type of patients who are most inconvenienced by this and trying to set up bespoke pathways to meet their needs.”
He said people with long-standing medical conditions, or people with injuries such as a hip fracture, could be admitted to the hospital at night, via ambulance, without the need for A&E.
To do this, the hospital needs to have enough senior nurses.
Mr Walmsley said: “It’s much easier to do that than get the emergency department doctors, but it’s still not easy. We are working as hard as we can.”
He said the hospital ‘will not admit defeat’ and will continue its recruitment efforts, including hiring abroad, working with specialist recruiters, and sharing staff with other hospitals.
What critics say
A total of 152 people voted in a Mercury poll on A&E, with 75 per cent saying they do not think it will re-open at night, and 91 per cent saying they do not think enough is being done to restore a full service.
Protect Our NHS North Somerset’s Steve Timmis agreed, and said: “There’s not a chance it will re-open.
“There has been no information at all from hospital managers. They just don’t seem to have the will to do it. It’s tragic, it really is.
“I think they are just burying their heads in the sand.”
He said he has seen no job adverts and believes the hospital should work with counterparts in Bristol to rotate staff between A&E departments in Bristol and Weston.
Weston Labour Party collected 7,000 signatures petitioning Weston’s A&E closure, which it handed to the Trust’s board, and Weston resident Terry Hutt collected a further 5,000 which was presented at Whitehall.
Labour’s Weston candidate in the most recent General Election, Tim Taylor, said: “The problem is, we are not quite sure what is going on – they need to be telling us what their plan is.
“They announced the closure two months ago and we have not had a clear plan or strategy from the Trust.”
He praised plans to find alternative ways to admit patients at night, but said this must be done alongside a 24-hour A&E, and not instead of it.
The long-term plan for A&E
North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group was looking at ways to make the A&E more sustainable before the closure.
Its spokesman said: “We understand people will have concerns about the future of A&E services in Weston… but we remain very clear this is a temporary measure which was introduced to ensure patient safety following concerns about overnight staffing levels.”
They said long-term solutions for emergency care in North Somerset are being reviewed, but added ‘no decisions will be made without public consultation’.
They added: “Earlier this year we began a process of public engagement to explore the options available to us and we will continue this work later in the year.
“The temporary overnight closure is obviously relevant to this work, but it will not predetermine the outcomes of the public consultation.”