Government cuts have seen two NHS hospitals call for Army medics to help them maintain an A&E service.
NHS trusts in Yorkshire and Mid-Staffs cite staff shortages as the reason for closing their A&Es at night.
Following a Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust proposal to bring in Army medics to cover a shortage of doctors at Pontefract Hospital, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper yesterday said the trend is ‘deeply worrying’.
The A&E unit in Pontefract has been closed from 10pm-8am since November 1st, 2011.
Cooper, who is Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, said: ‘The government needs to explain how it has come to this, with two NHS hospital trusts now needing help from the army to keep services open.
‘Twelve thousand people have signed our petition to get Pontefract A&E reopened and we want to see action by Mid Yorkshire Trust to deliver on their promises to local people.
‘So clearly, action which brings additional doctors into Pontefract to reopen services is important and welcome…
‘But it is deeply worrying that two hospitals have now had to seek help from the army because of the shortage of doctors, and the government needs to explain urgently why they have allowed it to come to this and what action ministers will take to deliver the doctors we need.’
Cooper was backed by Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett, who said the Mid Yorkshire Trust should ‘get a grip and recruit the necessary staff’.
The trust said the unit would reopen fully as soon as enough doctors could be recruited to staff it safely.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs Committee, said a hospital calling for help from Army doctors was ‘very, very unusual’.
He said: ‘We need to ask why doctors are not seeking to work at Pontefract Hospital or responding to the recruitment drive they have initiated.
‘There simply aren’t that many Army-trained doctors sitting twiddling their thumbs.’
Meanwhile, Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust chiefs have called in Army medics at Stafford Hospital.
This is just to keep the A&E open in the day, while the casualty remains closed at night.
Two emergency consultants and four senior nurses are being provided by the Ministry of Defence.
The Trust admitted that without ‘urgent action’ there ‘will be significant risks following withdrawal of the military support’.
BMA Council member Anna Athow said: ‘The real fault lies with government funding cuts and plans to close district general hospitals (DGHs) to promote privatisation.
‘The problem with Pontefract is it has been run down so much that there are very few doctors in the hospital to care for emergency cases if they did come to the A&E.
‘I understand there is no acute ward, no 24-hour operating theatres, no dedicated consultant cover and no diagnostics on site.
‘There has clearly been decision taken at the highest level to get rid of this hospital as a proper DGH.’