• University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust says Stafford A&E department is unsafe due to shortage of specialist paediatric staff
  • Concerns echo those raised in August 2006 when a peer review warned of “immediate risks” to children due to a lack of staff
  • Staff shortages include doctors and nurses trained in paediatric and anaesthetic skills

PATIENT SAFETY: Emergency services for children at Stafford hospital have been suspended because of safety concerns amid a shortage of A&E staff with specialist paediatric skills.

The University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust, which runs the renamed County Hospital site, said today that the service, which sees 30 children a day, was not clinically safe for anyone under 18.

Stafford Hospital

Stafford Hospital

Concerns were highlighted in a draft report by the West Midlands Quality Review Service

It said in a statement that the accident and emergency department has a lack of sufficient numbers of staff with very specific levels of paediatric and anaesthetic training, including resuscitation and life-support competencies.

The suspension comes 10 years after the same concerns were raised over emergency services for children at Stafford hospital, which was then run by Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

UHNM said the interim closure, which started at 10am on 25 August, will not affect adult services which remain open 14 hours a day between 8am and 10pm.

The trust said the model of service, introduced by the former trust special administrators in 2015, was no longer viable and there were not sufficient staff at its Royal Stoke University Hospital to rotate between the two sites.

The trust said children should not be taken to the A&E and any arrivals would be looked after until staff could arrange for a transfer to another hospital.

The decision was taken after safety concerns highlighted in a draft report by the West Midlands Quality Review Service. The trust said these could not be addressed in the short term.

In 2006, a peer review of Stafford hospital’s services for critically ill children said there were “immediate risks” because of low levels of medical and nursing staff trained in paediatric life support. It said these staff were absent from the A&E for “much of the day” with no one on duty in the paediatric ward with relevant training at night.

It also said there was insufficient medical and nursing staff generally within A&E with no nurses available for triage and patients waiting for up to two hours having only been seen by a receptionist.

Concerns about children’s services at the hospital were also raised by an earlier peer review report in 2003. The 2013 public inquiry by Sir Robert Francis QC found both were not acted on.

Earlier this month, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warned the NHS had failed to act on its recommendations over a number of years to radically redesign paediatric services, which was exacerbating workforce shortages.

Liz Rix, chief nurse and acting deputy chief executive at UHNM, said on Thursday: “We cannot and will not continue to deliver services without the confidence that those services are safe. I want to thank my fellow clinical colleagues for reviewing the situation and for their advice, which has led to us taking this difficult short term decision. This allows us the space to examine future options for safe children’s services at County Hospital with input from our staff, regulators and partners.”

Ann Marie Morris, clinical director and emergency medicine consultant, added: “I want to reassure parents that we have taken this decision in the best interests of children. Whilst it is regrettable that some children may have to travel further for care, our first priority has to be providing a safe clinical service. People view the children’s emergency centre as a safety net, but this is only the case when the right number of professionally trained experienced staff are in place at all times.

“This is not currently the case, and as we cannot resolve this in the short term the only responsible course of action we can take is to suspend the service.”