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Consultants rebel over A&E closures with child safety warning

Children's A&E at the Royal Free and UCLH to be kept closed over winter

24 September, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Royal Free consultants have written a warning letter

CONSULTANTS have launched a fightback against a decision to shut children’s accident and emergency departments at two hospitals, warning that child safety is on the line.

A raft of senior clinicians have joined the rebellion by signing three joint letters to the North London Partners – the overseeing body of health commissioners – warning the changes do not have their backing.

Managers say their move to send all child patients who would normally be taken in an emergency to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead or University College Hospital in the Euston Road to the Whittington Hospital instead is a temporary necessity because of the Covid crisis and has been backed by their clinical advisory groups.

But the New Journal has learned that Royal Free consultants have signed a joint letter warning about insufficient resources at the Whittington.

The text raises concerns about the staffing and beds that would be needed to cover the child A&E patients usually spread across the three hospitals serving Camden.

Meanwhile, 12 UCH paediatric lead consultants have signed a second letter saying children’s safety is being put at significant risk.

A third letter from cancer consultants at UCLH is understood to say they feel their work will be compromised because of a lack of expertise caused by the cuts.

The scale of the internal opposition and at such a high level is almost unprecedented. Insiders have previously raised concerns that the Covid crisis will become cover for NHS cuts and that changes will not be restored once the crisis has passed.

The last day that children will be admitted to the Royal Free’s A&E is on Sunday.

The issue was raised by Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq in the House of Commons on Monday. She demanded assurances from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“Last year, I was faced with every parents’ nightmare. I rushed my small baby to A&E in my constituency because he wasn’t breathing,” said Ms Siddiq. “The doctors and nurses saved his life. The same children’s A&E will be closed temporarily next month, because of the pressure Covid 19 will put on the NHS over winter.”

“I want the secretary of state to give me a cast-iron guarantee that the local NHS will be given all the resources it needs, so that this closure is strictly temporary and this A&E service can be restored as soon as possible.”

Mr Hancock said: “We do have to make sure our hospitals are Covid secure, and I’d be very happy to meet her and discuss the specifics at the Royal Free.”

Meanwhile, Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer – the leader of the Labour Party – is due to meet with the head of NLP Mike Cooke about the strategy tomorrow.

In a letter to Mr Starmer, Mr Cooke, a former chief executive of Camden Council, had said: “Bearing in mind the relatively close geographic proximity of the Whittington, Royal Free, UCLH and GOSH, we believe this provides the best approach to delivering safe and resilient services for children for the coming winter.”

A spokeswoman for NLP said: “Our top priority is to provide safe, high-quality care. These temporary changes allow the NHS to focus our resources so that children and young people’s services are not disrupted should there be an increase in demand over the winter due to Covid. We will continue to work with NHS staff across our hospitals to ensure these temporary changes are safe and meet the needs of children and young people during the pandemic and busy winter period.”


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