The accident and emergency unit at the new £60m Pontefract Hospital will be shut at night from next Tuesday – just 10 months after it opened.
Patients in the Express area will be forced to travel to Wakefield, Barnsley or Doncaster for emergency treatment after the Trust which runs the hospital voted to close the unit between 10pm and 8am from November 1 because of a “shortage” of emergency doctors.
Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper urged bosses to delay making a decision so it could look at ways to avoid the partial closure at a meeting of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS board last Thursday
She said: “I have grave concerns that you are rushing into this without exploring all the alternatives.”
Julia Squire, trust chief executive, told the meeting there was a national shortage of middle grade doctors and the number of unfilled posts at the trust’s hospitals would become “critical” on November 1.
She said the trust would have nine vacancies across 23 posts which would mean it could not staff its three A&E departments at Pontefract, Wakefield and Dewsbury “safely”.
Ms Squire said the trust was proposing to shut Pontefract’s unit between 10pm and 8am because it sees the smallest number of patients – with an average of 19 patients seen between those hours.
Ms Squire said: “It’s a very difficult thing for doctors, nurses and managers to think about restricting services. Providing services as close to home as possible is something close to our hearts.”
Medical director Prof Tim Hendra added: “Our responsibility is to address the board on an issue of safety. The local community will insist our services are safe at all times.”
Pontefract resident Jack Kershaw, a non-executive director, told the board how residents in the town feel “betrayed” by the trust and believe the plans are a “back door method” for downgrading the unit.
He was the only board member to vote against the plan.
The board agreed to make every effort to recruit more doctors and reopen Pontefract A&E at the earliest opportunity. They will also monitor the impact on the A&E department at Pinderfields.
A public meeting to discuss the proposed changes at the trust will be held by Wakefield LINk at Wakefield Town Hall at 10.30am on Tuesday November 1. There will be an opportunity for residents to ask questions.
Coun Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council said: “I am deeply concerned about the loss of overnight services at Pontefract A&E and the potential impact this will have on the wellbeing of local people.
“It is simply unacceptable that people living in the Five Towns area will be forced to travel to seek urgent, potentially life-saving medical treatment.”
l Our sister paper, the Pontefract and Castleford Express, has collected more than 1,100 signatures to keep the department open. Add your voice on the coupon above.