The accident and emergency department at Stafford Hospital is to close overnight due to inadequate permanent medical cover.

Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust has been trying to achieve satisfactory levels of permanent consultant cover in A&E since the Healthcare Commission’s report into the trust was published in 2009.

Two consultants were offered permanent posts following a recruitment process in the summer but declined to take up the offer. One associate specialist has been appointed since then but the department is still short of three consultants.

In September the Care Quality Commission warned the trust it would consider using its legal powers to close services unless it improved staffing levels.

At a meeting yesterday the board approved the closure of the department from 10pm until 8am, beginning on 1 December, for an intial period of three months.

In a statement chief executive Lyn Hill-Tout insisted the closure would be temporary and used to recruit permanent doctors and training up the nursing team, many of whom were relatively new and inexperienced.

She said: “One of our main challenges is still not being able to recruit and retain good quality permanent consultants and middle grade doctors.  This is partly a result of the national shortage of emergency care medical staff and partly due to the reputation of the trust and the continued external scrutiny.”

Medical director Manjit Obhrai told HSJ the situation had come to a head as one of the four permanent middle grade doctors is to leave later this year, leaving eight vacancies. The trust plans to offer enhanced recruitment and retention packages and research opportunities as well as exploring opportunities for joint appointments with University Hospital of North Staffordshire.

Dr Obhrai said this “network solution” was the favourite and most likely to succeed.

A petition calling for the hospital to be given more support and ensure the closure is not permanent has already collected more than 1,000 signatures.

Chief executive of the Staffordshire primary care trust cluster Graham Urwin said neighbouring trusts had been advised of the likely impact which was estimated to be about 15 patients per night with, an equal spread across the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, Walsall Healthcare Trust, Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals and, occasionally, Burton Foundation Trust.

He said: “We know that Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust has not taken this decision lightly. The hospital has worked tirelessly to find a different solution, to this issue. However, ultimately the inability to recruit the right numbers and types of medical staff, and the need to put patients first, means that this action needs to be taken.”