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Stafford Hospital: Leading doctors warn of risks to children if services are lost

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: August 11, 2014

Paediatrician John Puntis with campaigners Cheryl Porter and Karen Howells

Paediatrician John Puntis with campaigners Cheryl Porter and Karen Howells

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PAEDIATRICIANS from across the county have warned of the risks to children’s lives if Stafford Hospital’s children’s ward and maternity unit are lost.

Consultants travelled from as far afield as Leeds and London to give their backing to the Support Stafford Hospital protest camp at a special weekend gathering.

Stafford Hospital consultant paediatrician Colin Melville warned of the disruption to families and distress for children if they had to travel further for treatment.

“My concern is for patients who have secondary, short-lived conditions such as diarrhoea or croup being moved into big tertiary [hospital] centres,” he said.

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“I don’t feel that is the best way to deal with them, because they can be treated locally without inconveniencing families, and without the adverse effects on children of being a long way from home.”

Dr Melville said NHS administrators were seeking to make services conform to a single pattern. “But one size doesn’t fit all in the UK,” he said. He said concentrating services into fewer hospitals was like closing down tills in a supermarket – the result would be longer queues. And in a hospital context that meant patients having to be transferred miles away.

Tony O’Sullivan, consultant paediatrician with the Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust, commented: “All paediatricians are completely in favour of highly specialist services being concentrated in one place, but 95 per cent of the conditions affecting mothers and children can be dealt with locally – and are best dealt with locally.”

Dr O’Sullivan warned there would be an increased risk to lives if crucial hospital services were moved out of Stafford.

“Sixty per cent of the critically ill children we see don’t arrive by ambulance, they arrive in their parents’ arms and come by car or public transport,” he said. “With some illnesses such as meningitis time is of the essence and if families have further to travel the risks are obvious.”

He said in one recent tragic case in Lewisham, parents had brought their baby in by public transport. The child turned out to have meningitis, and by the time they reached the hospital the youngster was “beyond help”.

And consultant paediatric gastro-enterologist John Puntis, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trusts, said clinicians were grappling with a box-ticking management culture in the NHS.

“We are working at capacity, but we are being told the computer model says we should have fewer beds,” he said.

“I don’t think hospital units should be closed unless there are very good reasons and there is hard evidence that the new arrangements will improve things for patients,” Dr Puntis said.

“We are supposed to be living in a new, democratic and more accountable era for the NHS and the views of local people are supposed to count for something.”

Support Stafford Hospital campaigner Cheryl Porter said she was delighted with the national response to the special weekend event at the protest camp.

“I hope we can work with other people across the country who have the same concerns about the future of NHS services,” she said.

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