CLOSING a hospital accident and emergency department in Worcestershire may improve patient care and solve staffing shortages in one go, says a top consultant.
Rose Johnson, an A&E consultant and assistant medical director at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said centralising emergency care at a single hospital could bring “real advantages for patients”.
She was speaking after a Joint Services Review was announced by health bosses in Worcestershire.
Although not yet out for public consultation, six models for change have been unveiled, ranging from no change at all to the centralisation of services.
One of the most emotive options on the table is getting rid of one of the county’s two accident and emergency departments – in Worcester and Redditch – which has already prompted a campaign to save the A&E department in Redditch.
Ms Johnson believes a centralised A&E department would allow better consultant cover in emergencies for a longer period of time, including weekends.
At the moment there are two consultants on shift between 9am and 7pm, Monday to Thursday, and between 9am and 6pm on a Friday. They are on-call at weekends at both hospitals.
Ms Johnson says the new system would mean a consultant would be on hand 16 hours a day on weekdays and 12 hours a day at weekends.
She said: “I know patients get worried about the idea of people dying in the back of an ambulance but we know from experience at Kidderminster Hospital that it’s very, very rare that the increased journey time makes any difference to a patient’s outcome.”
At the moment, there are five consultants at Worcester and four at Redditch, but a central emergency department would provide more expertise in one place with a team of nine.
The hospitals trust, along with others in the country, is also having trouble recruiting middle-grade doctors to staff their accident and emergency departments.
Mrs Johnson said the A&E department at Worcester-shire Royal Hospital in Worcester should have nine permanent middle-grade doctors, but instead had three.
There are six vacant middle-grade doctor posts at Worcester and three at Redditch, which have to be filled by locums and can be more expensive than paying members of their own staff.
Ms Johnson said it would take nine middle-grade doctors to staff an A&E department which could be provided through centralising services. Ms Johnson said there were clinical advantages to centralisation in other areas, including stroke care and 24-hour stenting for heart attack patients.
NHS bosses argue that it is also easier to recruit and retain staff if some services are centralised.