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Nurses quit as decision to close children’s A&E units sparks huge backlash

Exclusive: Medical rebellion continues over winter shutdowns

01 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot

All child emergencies will go to the Whittington

NHS chiefs are under intense pressure to reopen children’s A&E departments at two hospitals after the resignations of many nurses in protest, and as a campaign builds among angry parents and school teachers.

Senior hospital staff have spoken out for the second week running after the paediatric emergency units at University College Hospital and the Royal Free were shut down on Sunday.

Under the winter plans, ambulances are now diverting all paediatric patients to an expanded children’s A&E at the Whittington Hospital.

Child patients taken to UCLH or the Royal Free by parents will be assessed before being re-routed to the hospital in Highgate.

But the New Journal has learned of the resignations of dozens of hospital nurses on the back of the “rushed” move that has been blasted as “clinically unsafe” by senior consultants.

And last night (Wednesday) an insider at the Whittington paediatric department warned they would not be able to “take up the slack”, adding: “Winter is the worst possible time to do this. Even in the best of times, in non-Covid times, we are operating on bare bones. So to experiment at this time, by rushing through an unpopular change in service, is unbelievable. They are not listening to the feedback.”

The source added: “There is a lot of anxiety and we all feel powerless to stop it. The big problem is staffing, safe staffing. You need skilled people to be there to deliver the care you need. And there is a big question mark over the numbers of nurses and doctors in the new unit.

“We have been told that half of the nurses due to transfer over from the other hospitals have resigned. We have been told this change is political and it is going to be permanent.”

Managers at North London Partners – the health funding authority behind the decision – say they are within their rights to impose the temporary measures on hospitals without public consultation because of the “national emergency”.

And they have gone on record saying the changes have the backing of clinical advisory groups.  But this official line contrasts sharply with what staff are saying on the ground.

The New Journal revealed last week how several consultants at UCLH and the Royal Free had written three separate letters raising serious concerns that the changes were “unsafe” and that capacity at the Whittington was a “significant risk”.

Meanwhile, a people power campaign is growing with posters being designed and schools set to come together to fight the changes.

Andrea Taylor, principal of the Hampstead Hill School next to the Royal Free in Pond Street, said: “We are very upset and angry about the dangerous decision and we are well aware that this is not something the medical staff agree with at all. We have heard that from many, many people who we know, who work in the hospital [Royal Free].”

The Royal Free Hospital

Hundreds have signed petitions launched online while MPs Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq have raised concerns with health bosses.

Parent Karen Morton, whose petition has been signed by more than 500 people this week, said NHS chiefs should “urgently reopen the children’s A&E services at UCLH, with their excellent facilities and world-leading doctors”.

Another petition against the changes, set up by Jessica Learmond Criqui, a community campaigner who lives in Hampstead, said the plan was “a  permanent closure masquerading as a temporary closure”.

Seniors sources at UCLH contacted the New Journal warning that the changes had been tabled long before the pandemic struck and that freedoms placed on managers to act decisively during the Covid crisis were being used to force them through.

There would be “high costs” to patients, workforce and hospital budgets and there was “no evidence of an options appraisal” or “evaluation of the changes on impact to children and young people”.

At a meeting of five north London councils’ Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC) on Friday, Brenda Allan, a mental health consultant from the campaign group North Central London NHS Watch, said: “We are concerned the NHS is becoming more centralised and financially driven, rather remote and unresponsive to its users, which would harm us all.”

Larraine Revah, Camden Council’s Older People’s Champion who sits on the JHOSC, said: “You’ve placed the onus on the Whittington, but are they going to be prepared?” North London Partners is tasked with making £1billion of NHS efficiencies over five years.

NLP’s systems lead, Rob Hurd, who is in charge of the “gold command” group behind the A&E changes, told the online meeting: “What we are doing is responding to a national major incident – an unknown disease, pandemic. We are responding week-to-week to what we face in front of us. All the changes are temporary.”

He said there was no legal obligation to consult during the “national emergency”, but added that if a review recommended making the changes permanent the plan would be put to the public.

Mr Hurd said the changes would lead to a “more resilient service for children by consolidating staffing to offer better access through the winter, which we anticipate to be an extremely busy period”.

A further statement from the NLP said: “The recommendations were considered and supported by the North Central London Clinical Advisory Group, the London Clinical Advisory Group and North Central London Gold, comprising chief executive-level representation from health partners across north central London.”

Dr Clare Dollery, Whittington medical director, said the public should be “confident that services are safe and effective for children who require urgent and emergency care this winter”.

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