THERE was uproar in south-east London yesterday, after the announcement of plans to shut the Accident and Emergency and maternity departments at Queen Mary’s, Sidcup, over the winter.
The hospital serves a catchment area of more than a million people in London and Kent.
The A&E will shut down from November and the maternity unit will close as soon as practicably possible, due to ‘safety risks’.
But BMA Council member Anna Athow, speaking in a personal capacity, said yesterday: ‘I don’t agree with the closure of the A&E department. In emergencies, local access is a key issue.
‘It’s needed for the local catchment area population, who shouldn’t have to travel miles to the next hospital, the Princess Royal.
‘The standard of the local A&E should be maintained for the needs of the local people.’
She also warned: ‘Last month the government rescinded the moratorium on the reconfiguration of London’s hospitals and now the hospitals that were under threat are all under threat again.
‘All the threatened hospital A&Es should be maintained. Local people should build Councils of Action and unite with the trade unions to stop this.’
John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, which represents doctors working in A&E departments, had earlier warned that: ‘On average, A&E units are staffed by just four doctors and they admit 75,000 patients in a year. They are far too overstretched.’
Local people fear the winter closure is a backdoor measure to achieve Queen Mary’s permanent shutdown.
Permanent closure was outlined in the highly controversial ‘A Picture of Health’ (APOH) proposals, supposedly put on hold while an inquiry was carried out.
London Health Emergency said that if the hospital failed to open its doors again to emergency patients, then this would have ‘severe consequences’, warning that the winter closure was an ‘engineered’ crisis that would be exploited to try and achieve the permanent closure.
The ‘death sentence’ hanging over the hospital had encouraged staff to leave.
A statement from the South London Healthcare Trust chief executive, Chris Streather, said: ‘A clinical safety review carried out by independent senior clinicians, commissioned by NHS London across all of our sites and supported by the Trust’s medical and nursing directors, has concluded that there are significant safety risks, particularly in regard to a serious shortage of emergency medicine middle and junior grade doctors, and midwives.
‘We can’t take a risk that this situation would become unsustainable during the winter months.’
The Department of Health said the units ‘should temporarily close while there are concerns’.
The remarks from John Heyworth about the shortage of doctors in A&E units across the country indicates that the ‘temporary’ closure at Queen Mary’s is just the tip of an iceberg, as savage cuts to the NHS start to take effect.
Karen Jennings, Head of Health at Unison, the biggest NHS trade union, said: ‘We fear that the closure of wards at Queen Mary’s will be the first of a number of cuts hitting hospitals.
‘Queen Mary’s has been historically plagued with management problems, but the cuts proposed by the government are also hitting hospitals hard.
‘The coalition is going against their word and taking an axe to the NHS, demanding cuts of £20 billion.’
Angry local people campaigning to keep Queen Mary’s open said shutting the A&E and Maternity units is a threat to patient safety – not keeping them going.
The previous ‘temporary’ closure of overnight A&E services turned into a situation in which Queen Mary’s is already permanently closed to emergency patients after 8pm.
Campaigners yesterday demanded that the hospital is given the necessary funds to recruit more doctors and midwives if there is a shortage.
The closure plans will go to the trust board meeting next Wednesday.
• Kingston Hospital in south-west London is facing a spending freeze on staff recruitment, except in ‘exceptional circumstances’, after it was told it had ‘overspent’ by £1 million.
The hospital’s annual report quoted chief executive Kate Grimes as saying: ‘In this tough economic climate and with the review of hospitals taking place across south-west London, there are many challenges.’
Sixteen out of 18 proposals for the future of hospital services in south-west London involve a major loss of service at Kingston.