Anger at move to speed up A&E closures

HEALTH campaigners expressed anger yesterday after plans to fast-track the closure of accident and emergency departments in Glasgow were approved.

NHS Greater Glasgow has given the go-ahead to shut the casualty unit at Stobhill Hospital next summer, instead of its original planned closure date of 2007.

The health board also approved an "accelerated" closure of the accident and emergency departments at the Victoria and Western Infirmaries.

It will also push ahead with a two-month public consultation on withdrawing all in-patient services at the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital.

Paul Martin, the Labour MSP for Springburn, who sits on a monitoring group set up after the Scottish Parliament guaranteed services would remain at Stobhill until at least 2007, criticised plans to accelerate the closure of services.

He said: "It seems every piece of paper coming out of the health board is pushing a health board agenda, not a patient agenda."

The casualty unit at Stobhill will be replaced with a minor injuries unit, which will treat up to 30 per cent of the department’s current workload. There will also be a minor injuries unit at the Victoria Infirmary.

The health board has argued that the re-organisation of hospital services in Glasgow is necessary in order to cope with new consultant contracts and the European Working Time Directive, which will cut down the hours that doctors work. The NHS is also facing a recruitment and retention crisis within medical professions so concentrating specialist services on fewer sites will help ensure rotas are covered.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP MSP for Glasgow, who fought against the re-organisation of the city’s hospital services, said the fast-track plans to close down accident and emergency departments would compromise patient care.

She added: "The health board has totally reneged on its promises to patients. Patients are right to be concerned and, quite frankly, angry. These services will not be safe."

But Tom Divers, the chief executive of Greater Glasgow NHS Board, said that the services could not be sustained in their existing locations for much longer.

He added: "That’s why NHS Greater Glasgow recognises that interim action is needed now to prevent deterioration in patient care before our new hospital programme can bring results."

The health board, which is investing 750 million in modernising services by 2012, has argued that it has tried to keep the casualty unit open at Stobhill as long as possible but that it is no longer viable to allow it to continue functioning in its current format.

Part of the reason for this is because it does not treat major trauma or orthopaedic injuries, so is unable to provide a sufficient skill mix for doctors in training.

Tim Davison, the chief executive of the North Glasgow Division of NHS Greater Glasgow, which manages Stobhill Hospital, added: "The professional accreditation bodies have recently paid a visit to assess our service at Stobhill. Despite being impressed with our commitment to the department, and the steps taken to maintain the service, they have advised that, even if we do recruit two extra consultant staff, the department will still fail to provide a reasonable level of training for our junior doctors.

"Regrettably, we have therefore been advised that accreditation will not be granted beyond July 2005."

Last December, Robert Calderwood, the chief executive of the South Glasgow Division, was told to find ways to speed up the controversial reorganisation of hospital services to help cut costs.

The review of acute services will leave just two accident-and-emergency departments in Glasgow - at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the Southern General.

To help fund the modernisation process, the health board also plans to dispense with 1,000 jobs in order to save nearly 60 million in its current spending budgets.

However, it has insisted job losses would be made by "natural wastage" with staff who leave not being replaced.

Sir John Arbuthnott, the chairman of NHS Greater Glasgow, said: "To a certain extent, we are in the position of moving around pieces of a vast jigsaw of health services in Greater Glasgow.

"We are concentrating some services on fewer sites to allow them to continue to function safely and moving others to create the space required for the interim arrangements."