A hospital trust has been criticised for announcing that it will withdraw emergency general surgery from one of its sites without consultation.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals trust said the temporary service cut at Grantham and District Hospital will be in place by the end of March, but will only affect one patient requiring surgery a day.

But Lincolnshire county council health scrutiny committee chair Amanda Puttick said: 'It was alarming to have this information released the day after the health scrutiny committee met. It states in the trust news release that they intend to consult with us over any changes and it is a pity they did not choose to do so on this occasion.'

She warned that any changes should not prejudice the outcome of planned consultations on the future of acute services and said the committee would write to the trust asking how long the cut would last.

The trust said clinical staff had called for the cut because:

  • recruiting consultants is difficult because of the low number of patients at Grantham;
  • the small patient number makes it impossible to maintain clinical skills at Grantham. Around four people a day need access to emergency surgical services but only one ultimately needs surgery;
  • there are no level-three critical care facilities to support patients who need intubation and ventilation and/or more than one organ requiring life support. Patients have to be moved to other sites after operations if they need such care.
  • four junior doctors' posts in anaesthetics are being withdrawn from August because juniors do not see enough patients to meet curriculum competence requirements.

Acting medical director Dr David Boldy said: 'This low volume of activity means that our doctors cannot maintain the skills required and that is a concern for patient safety.'

Lincolnshire primary care trust is expected to consult later this year on service changes which could include downgrading services at Grantham. The acute trust said residents would be able to give their views on the temporary cut until the end of March.

However, it seems unlikely that the service will be restored before the consultation. It said any permanent change would have to be considered by the scrutiny committee.