I read with concern that through-the-night accident and emergency services are to be withdrawn from Wansbeck General Hospital.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS, which is also withdrawing the facilities at Hexham and North Tyneside hospitals from midnight until 8am, was reported as saying that the services are currently being little used through the night and alternative care will be available at either the Northumbria Hospital at Cramlington or by calling the 111 service.
I am sure the trust has taken the decision only after careful consideration, but my concern is that we are approaching the depths of winter when traditionally demand for emergency care rises sharply and I wonder how much extra pressure that will put on the service at Cramlington and how that might affect waiting times.
Having to travel to Cramlington in the middle of the night when winter road conditions could be tricky is something I am sure many would prefer to avoid.
The trust is stressing that the changes amount to “a temporary measure” as part of preparations for winter by having the right people in the right place to support patient care at a time of high demand, which is exactly the point I am making.
Surely having a 24-hour staffed A&E unit at Wansbeck would have done just that, and that is a question I plan to ask the trust.
Last week most commentators agreed that Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s autumn statement contained nothing of merit for the NHS nationally, with no new money promised.
The NHS is under the greatest financial pressure ever. It is not going too far to say that it is only the incredible commitment of our wonderful staff that is holding the service together.
But what we have to guard against is ensuring that the “temporary” withdrawal of some A&E cover at our local hospitals does not become a thin end of the wedge.