At a recent summit meeting health officials were told that there are serious concerns that the temporary reduction in opening hours at a paediatric unit at Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital will become permanent.
County Councillor Jim Clark, Chairman of the Council’s Scrutiny of Health Committee who called the urgent meeting and County Councillor John Blackie, who is also leader of Richmondshire District Council, attended together with senior members from the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group.
The Unit was opened in October 2014 following an extensive consultation on proposals which led to consultant led children’s and maternity services being taken away from the Friarage Hospital. These services are now provided at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough. The proposals were at times hotly contested and the setting up of the PSSAU was seen as a key part in reassuring the public that a local service was being retained.
The Unit was set up with opening hours of 10.00am to 10.00pm 7 days a week.
Earlier this month the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust announced at short notice that due to staffing shortages the unit would close at the earlier time of 8.00pm Monday to Friday and 5.00pm on weekends and bank holidays. Despite efforts by the trust to recruit consultants the paediatric team has a shortfall of four fulltime equivalents due to long term sicknesses and vacancies.
Councillor Jim Clark said, “I understand the problems the trust faced in terms of maintaining safe staffing arrangements in the unit but I do feel the trust’s public statement that the changes were minimal, did not acknowledge the impact that the changes will have, particularly at weekends.
“County Councillor John Blackie said, “It will be essential that any planned review of the unit after 6 months should only take place after it has been staffed as was originally intended and the opening hours have been restored to 10.00am to 10.00pm 7 days a week. We must guard against these temporary changes becoming the permanent solution.”
Dr Vicky Pleydell, Clinical Chief Officer at Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are working with the Trust and our council colleagues to ensure that everything possible is being done to resolve the staffing issues being faced. It is very important that the service is provided to the level that the CCG has commissioned, although we do appreciate that patient safety and quality of care must be the main priorities. It is our clear intention to commission this service with full open hours over the long term.”
Tricia Hart , Chief Executive of the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust commented: “We share the disappointment of our commissioners and local people in having to reduce the hours – even on a temporary basis – so soon after making the changes to services at The Friarage. But we are facing a perfect storm in terms of staffing that we could not have predicted – and as our first concern is patient safety we had no viable alternative but to temporarily reduce the opening hours of the unit.
“We have tried every avenue to find the consultant cover we need to run this service 12 hours a day, but it hasn’t been possible despite all our efforts and the dedication of existing staff who have worked over and above what we could have expected of them in recent months. We are delighted to have recruited to one consultant post and we are advertising for a further post, although if we are successful in attracting suitable candidates any new consultant would be unlikely to start work with us until September. Last week our Board of Directors re-stated our commitment to continuing to do all we can to recruit the staff needed and move back to 12 hour opening as soon as possible.”