• Friarage Hospital A&E to be reduced to 24/7 urgent treatment centre
  • Workforce shortages prompt “temporary” action to safeguard patients
  • Trust and CCGs committed to public consultation

An accident and emergency department is to be temporarily downgraded to a 24/7 urgent treatment centre because of patient safety fears.

South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust announced the changes to Friarage Hospital this week because it said there was an “imminent gap in staffing”. The changes will take effect from 27 March.

Friarage Hospital is one of the smallest district general hospitals in the country with fewer than 190 inpatient beds.

The trust and commissioners had been preparing to go out for a public consultation over changes to services at the hospital but the trust said in a statement this position had been “overtaken by events”.

The majority of services at Friarage hospital will not change but all complex critical care surgery will be carried out at James Cook University Hospital where patients with major trauma and stroke already go. The A&E will be reduced to an urgent treatment centre.

In 2014, Friarage Hospital stopped providing paediatric inpatient care and changed maternity services to only care for low-risk births.

A recent document on staffing shortages at the hospital said the department needed seven A&E doctors. Only four were permanent with locums covering the rest of the shifts.

The number of patients attending the department was only around 60 a day with an average four patients an hour between 8am and 8pm. Most attended with minor injuries.

The trust has invested over £40m in the hospital in the past 15 years, including the recent creation of a cancer centre and the purchase of an MRI scanner. Both the trust and commissioners have pledged to continue providing services from the site.

Adrian Clements, medical director for the trust, said: “We need to make these temporary changes to provide safe services for the population we serve. Despite our many efforts to recruit key medical staff over the last 18 months, support from our partners and the hard work of my team to keep services running, we are now facing significant risks because of an imminent gap in staffing.”

Siobhan McArdle, the trust’s chief executive, added: “Once we have stabilised our current services to ensure patient safety, we will be working in partnership with the CCG to deliver a full public consultation in order to agree the longer term sustainable future service model for the Friarage, something we all want to see.”