NHS London has recommended “temporarily” closing the accident and emergency and maternity units at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup.
The recommendation follows an independent review into patient safety at South London Healthcare Trust which runs the hospital. The review – as yet unpublished – concluded the units were not safe to run over winter months, when inpatient numbers invariably rise.
In a statement, NHS London’s chief nurse Trish Morris-Thompson said: “We found that despite numerous efforts the trust had not been able to recruit enough middle and junior-grade A&E doctors and midwives. Instead, the trust has been relying on temporary clinical staff with no flexibility to call on extra staff to care for higher numbers of patients if needed. This is not sustainable and could potentially put patients at risk.”
The strategic health authority’s recommendation to close the units “temporarily” from the end of November will spark interest as it mirrors earlier plans to close the units which were cancelled by health secretary Andrew Lansley in May.
Mr Lansley’s moratorium on NHS London’s capital-wide reconfiguration plans led to a series of board resignations at the SHA, including its chairman Sir Richard Sykes who wrote to the health secretary saying: “Our visions of healthcare delivery bear so little in common that it would make no sense for me to continue in this role.”
The hospital was brought under the control of South London Healthcare NHS Trust in April 2009 following a merger of three smaller hospital trusts – Queen Mary’s Sidcup, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich and Bromley Hospitals. But the new trust has struggled to maintain adequate staffing levels across all of its sites.
The recommendation to shut the A&E and maternity units at the Queen Mary’s site and to shift staff instead to the remaining two sites has been endorsed by South London Healthcare’s chief executive Dr Chris Streather.
In a statement he said: “I have been very clear publicly in recent months of our real concerns about the potential risks to patient safety involved in running three emergency and obstetric maternity units as the onset of winter puts additional pressures on our services.”
The recommendation must now be considered by South London Healthcare’s board. Although the closure is described as “temporary” and related to winter pressures, no end date has been stated for the closure.