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Stafford Hospital move to reassure public further reducing A&E opening hours would only happen as a 'last resort'

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: February 07, 2014

By Robin Scott

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HOSPITAL bosses have moved to reassure the public any further changes to the opening hours of Stafford’s A&E would be a ‘very last resort’.

Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Maggie Oldham admitted the situation was ‘very fragile’ and a lack of experienced nursing staff meant reducing the emergency department’s opening hours had to be seriously considered but emphasised ‘we are not at that point yet’.

“Making any changes to the opening hours of Stafford A&E would be a very last resort for us and our local Clinical Commissioning Groups (Stafford and Surrounds and Cannock CCGs),” she said. “We know that if we have to take that step, we would be putting even more pressure on our colleagues in the A&E departments at Stoke, Wolverhampton and Walsall.

“We also owe a great debt to our local community and we certainly don’t want to have to ask them to accept shorter opening hours, even on what would be a temporary basis.

Mrs Oldhamd said the only reason the measure was being considered was due because the hospital didn’t have enough experienced nursing staff to look after all the patients on its wards, without relying heavily on agency staff.

“If we were to reduce A&E opening times even by a few hours a day, we would be controlling the number of patients who would then need to be admitted onto the wards,” she said.

“I must emphasise that we are not at that point yet – we have a lot of work underway which we hope will mean that we do not have to make that decision.

“What we need to do is to monitor the nursing numbers closely over the next few weeks and keep reviewing all of the initiatives which are underway.”

Mrs Oldham said it all came down to making decisions about what would keep patients safest.

“I am not prepared to compromise patient safety,” she said.

“We do not have enough experienced nurses partly because of the reputation of Mid Staffs – it is more difficult to attract staff, but also because of the uncertainty about the future – some staff are choosing to look elsewhere for secure posts.

“One of our major concerns is that by mid February we will not have enough senior nursing staff who are capable of taking charge of wards,” she said. “We have already limited the number of beds at Mid Staffs to 289, and will be reducing that number by another 10 before the end of February.”

Mrs Oldham said the trust was working very closely with Stafford and Surrounds Clinical Commissioning Group, University Hospital of North Staffordshire, The Royal Wolverhampton and other neighbouring trusts and said she was grateful for their support.

“In particular Andy Donald and his colleagues at our local CCGs who could not be more supportive,” she said. “I cannot remember ever having worked so closely with so many different organisations to try to find solutions for our patients.”

She said Stafford and Cannock CCG had set up a number of initiatives to help reduce the numbers of people coming to A&E and to find beds in the community for those patients who no longer needed to remain in an acute hospital like Stafford which were beginning to prove effective and could potentially alleviate the current problems.

“The situation is very fragile situation, with us working day to day to make sure we can provide safe staffing to care for our patients,” she said.

Mrs Oldham asked members of the public to remember A&E was for accidents and emergencies and urged people not to use it as ‘an easy option’ but only if they really needed it to avoid delaying specialist care for someone else who really needed it.

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