August 27, 2008

‘Let Public Have a Say in Row Over Life-Saving Unit’

By liz perkins

Demands are growing for the public to have a say over the future of a Swansea hospital casualty unit.

Members of health watchdog Swansea Community Health Council (CHC) are stepping up the pressure on the trust for a public consultation over the Singleton department's future.

The call has follows a petition calling for the service to be retained in its existing form.

Bosses at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS Trust have set out their case for change.

They say the department cannot be run as it is now, because patients are being placed at risk through doctor shortages and sudden closures of the unit.

The move towards a GP-led service, either next month or in October, has the backing of Swansea doctors who believe it will help make the department safer.

But Clive Walton, a member of Swansea Community Health Council (CHC), told a trust board meeting in Singleton Hospital: "The CHC chairwoman (Hilary Beynon) is quite concerned about the possible closure of the casualty department and my concern is that there is no public consultation.

"In fact, we are meeting in September to discuss this issue.

"I do not want to predetermine any discussion, but I think there should be transparency here in dialogue between the public, CHC and trust.

"To say the unit is being closed because it's dangerous to the public as a result of the staffing issue is something the public should be aware of and discussed with."

The trust is proposing a GP-led walk-in service at Singleton minor injuries unit, backed by a specialist nurse and receptionist, there from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, when the unit is at its busiest.

Between 6.30pm and 8am, the GP out-of-hours service would remain in place from Monday to Friday, along with weekends and bank holidays.

Doctors would be on hand to deal with a number of overnight and weekend non- emergency patients but it would be by appointment only through NHS Direct.

Urgent cases and injured patients would be transferred out of hours to Morriston Hospital.

The change is expected to affect around 10 patients a night.

Singleton's medical assessment unit and paediatric assessment unit will be run alongside the minor injuries unit between 8am and 10pm daily.

Both will deal with urgent cases, but non-emergency patients who arrive at the unit by ambulance after being referred by their GP.

But all 999 emergency blue light ambulances will head straight to Morriston Hospital.

Calum Campbell, assistant chief executive of Abertawe Morgannwg University NHS Trust (West), also at the meeting, said such steps needed to be taken to make the service safe.

He added: "There is a local governance risk if you can't get a doctor.

"The locum doctors say they are coming in but at the last minute they do not turn up - and that risk cannot be allowed to continue.

"I have been accused of creating that position but I personally do not try to get these locum doctors - the A&E consultants do.

"What we are coming up with will be safe and suitable for this site."

He added: "The key point is that these changes are going to cost the trust over pounds500,000 - it's not going to save us money, it's going to cost us money."

Paul Williams, chief executive of ABM University NHS Trust, told the meeting the recruitment issue at Singleton was UK-wide because of the impact of the European Working Time Directive.

This shortens the hours which medics can work, and is compounded by a global shortage of doctors trained in emergency medicine.

He added: "The pressure of the European Working Time Directive in the way we have to employ doctors in the future is something we cannot change.

"The services have to be adapted to meet reality.

"We have to applaud the clinicians for taking the view, rather than hiding away and waiting for a collapse of service."

(c) 2008 South Wales Evening Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.