Concern over plans to close minor injury units overnight

Aberdeenshire’s three remaining minor injury units could soon be closed overnight in a bid to save money despite fears it would ‘put lives at risk’.
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid fears that patients will have to find transport into Aberdeen Royal Infirmary during the night.Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid fears that patients will have to find transport into Aberdeen Royal Infirmary during the night.
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid fears that patients will have to find transport into Aberdeen Royal Infirmary during the night.

The Integration Joint Board (IJB) will meet next week to set the Aberdeenshire health and social care partnership budget for the year ahead.

One of the saving proposals would see the units at Peterhead Community Hospital, Fraserburgh Hospital and Huntly’s Jubilee Hospital close from 7pm to 7am.

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Reducing the existing 24-hour service would save around £716,000. But it would force patients with injuries including cuts, small burns, sprains and suspected broken bones to travel almost an hour to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for treatment instead.

The IJB says it needs to save £20 million due to rising cost pressures and a reduction in funding support from the Scottish Government.

IJB chairwoman Anne Stirling said the proposed cut came following a review of the units.

She explained: “Officers have undertaken a review of the figures for our MIUs and looking at how many people used the service correctly overnight. We are seeing an average of 12.5 people across three units – so roughly four people a night at each unit.

“These are very low numbers and in the main are not seen through the night but actually in the early part of the evening or very early morning.”

Ms Stirling revealed that stopping the overnight provision would save £716,000 this coming financial year and around £1 million each year thereafter.

“This is not a small amount of money and we need to look at the detail and the impact that an overnight closure might have on our communities,” she added.

Ms Stirling also stressed that the units will continue to open seven days a week during daytime hours.

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However, the proposal comes at a worrying time as ARI is struggling with lengthy ambulance turnaround times.

It is feared that cutting the minor injury units will place additional pressure on the already strained emergency service.

Last year medics faced an 18-hour wait outside the city hospital, while an ambulance was forced to sit for more than 10 hours in September.

As many as 17 ambulances were seen queuing outside the A&E department in December.

The waiting times in Aberdeen were recorded as the longest in Scotland, but the overall average turnaround time for ambulances at ARI was 89 minutes.

Plans to close the units overnight have been slammed by Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid who believes the change could put lives at risk.

He also revealed that patients living in Banff and Turriff have told him they are “living in fear” due to limited access to units since their opening hours were reduced.

The MP said: “While I understand that severe budget cuts have been forced on both NHS Grampian and Aberdeenshire Council from the Scottish Government, these units provide a lifeline service to people.

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“Especially for those living in rural areas and there should be, at the very least, a period of public engagement and consultation.”

Mr Duguid added: “These plans would be hugely damaging to healthcare provision in the north-east at a time when ambulance waiting times are skyrocketing and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Emergency Department is at breaking point.

“By removing overnight healthcare provision, I am concerned people will be put off seeking medical help and lives could be put at risk in the future.”

The Banff and Buchan MP will write to the board ahead of the meeting asking them to reconsider the cut.

Members of the IJB will consider the budget proposals on Wednesday.

Other proposed cuts include closing the older people’s day care in Huntly for good.

The facility has been out of action since the pandemic and its users have found alternative services elsewhere.

Ceasing the Huntly centre would save the partnership £21,000.

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The Shared Lives and Mearns Counselling services could also be stopped to save £108,000 and £20,250 respectively.

Meanwhile, the Aberdeenshire health and social care partnership will also revise its care home provision to ensure it is “fit for purpose” for the future.

This could result in one care home facility being closed and a saving of around £250,000.