Trust considers alternating emergency care service between hospitals

Two south coast hospitals could offer alternating accident and emergency services at night under controversial plans drawn up by a trust committee.

Conquest Hospital in Hastings and Eastbourne District General Hospital could adopt a one night on, one night off rota to provide emergency cover from 8pm to 8am.

Another option could see A&E provided at just one hospital and a third option could see staffing changes. Both hospitals are part of East Sussex Hospitals trust, which is putting forward proposals to bring the Surrey and Sussex health economy back into financial balance.

The rota idea has been discussed by an internal committee at the trust but has not gone before the board. The minutes of the committee meeting were leaked to the local press and caused concern among MPs, with Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson describing it as 'ridiculous. In Hastings a 'Hands off the Conquest' petition opposing any service cuts has been signed by more than 6,000 people.

Sussex Ambulance Service trust said it had not yet been formally consulted on any changes to A&E.

An East Sussex spokesman said: 'Clinical leads at the trust have been developing potential clinical service options to ensure sustainable, affordable and clinically effective services for the future. The options under consideration will also help ensure compliance with the European working-time directive by 2009.

'All options will be evaluated for their clinical effectiveness, patient access and financial viability. Any suggested change will be subject to a public consultation.'

NHS organisations across Surrey and Sussex are drawing up proposals which are expected to be made public by the end of June. Public consultation will start in the autumn.

The reconfiguration is expected to reduce the number of sites carrying out emergency trauma, and possibly also paediatrics.

A recent report for Surrey and Sussex strategic health authority suggested the area's deficit could rise to£350m by 2009-10 unless action was taken.

- Health secretary Patricia Hewitt has promised to scrutinise any plans for Worthing Hospital after Worthing West MP Peter Bottomley raised fears about its future in the House of Commons. The hospital's A&E department is rumoured to be under threat in six out of nine reconfiguration options being looked at.