Doctors hopeful over A&E pilot launch date

Doctors who rejected Stafford Hospital’s plans to reopen A&E overnight from next month said they were “hopeful” a 24-hour service would be restored in December.

Dr Johnny McMahon, left, and Dr Ken Deacon at the hospital press conference
Dr Johnny McMahon, left, and Dr Ken Deacon at the hospital press conference

Doctors who rejected Stafford Hospital’s plans to reopen A&E overnight from next month said they were “hopeful” a 24-hour service would be restored in December.

But Cannock GP Dr Johnny McMahon warned: “There’s no guarantee.” The department will have been closed between 10pm and 8am for a year when a proposed pilot round-the-clock service is due to start. But even if it does begin in December, the pilot will offer a reduced service and walk-in patients will still not be accepted.

Dr McMahon said GP referrals and ambulance arrivals will “most probably” be accepted.

Dr McMahon, chairman of the Cannock Chase Clinical Commissioning Group, was speaking at a press conference yesterday over the future of the hospital’s A&E department.

He said: “We want to try and get the pilot up and running as soon as possible, and we’re hopeful that can happen from December. But there’s no guarantee.”

Seriously ill patients who have suffered strokes or heart attacks will continue to be taken to specialist centres at New Cross and Stoke.

Dr Ken Deacon, medical director of the Staffordshire Cluster of PCTs, said: “Evidence shows the most unwell patients do better at specialist hospitals, even after travelling further.”

The panel of leading GPs and healthcare managers who announced their decision yesterday were grilled by Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy.

Mr Lefroy sought assurances there was no threat to daytime A&E services and was told no plans to make any changes had been discussed. He said: “I am very disappointed that the commissioners do not believe that the substantial amount of work done at Stafford is sufficient for a 24/7 reopening of A&E to be possible now. A 24/7 service is what my constituents need.”

Today other politicians criticised the verdict. Mike Heenan, leader of Stafford Borough Council, said he wanted a “fully-functioning” A&E and was sceptical about the pilot plans.

“It strikes me that you either have a proper A&E or you don’t,” he said. “It’s a very large population of around 300,000 people served by the hospital, and we have got the motorway, and you need a walk-in A&E.”

Cannock Chase MP Aidan Burley said the decision to delay the reopening risked sending A&E and the hospital “sliding ever further into decline”.

Yesterday’s announcement is the second blow for the hospital this week.

Health watchdog Monitor revealed experts were being called in to try to balance the books of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. Mr Lefroy is establishing a working group to liaise with Monitor.