United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust announced that it would be extending the opening hours at the Grantham accident and emergency by one hour earlier in the mornings last month.
This comes after the controversial and unpopular decision by the hospital trust in August to temporarily close the A&E department at nights to shift staff to cover a severe shortage of middle grade doctors at Lincoln and Boston A&Es.
Since August 17, Grantham A&E has only been open from 9am to 6.30pm seven days a week sparking protests and political campaigns by patients and supporters.
The trust has been faced with a national shortage of trained A&E doctors, finding itself “overly reliant” on short and long term agency doctors to fill staff rotas.
Reducing the opening hours allowed it to provide better patient care in Lincoln where the most serious cases from across the county go to. Though not ideal, the trust said this was the safest option for the provision of emergency care for the people of Lincolnshire including those living in the Sleaford area whose nearest hospital would be Grantham.
Dr Suneil Kapadia, medical director at ULHT says: “We understand that Grantham people want A&E to be open 24/7 but we are unable to do this until we are confident that we can safely staff all of our A&Es at least eight weeks into the future. We remain committed to getting A&E open 24/7 but only when it is safe to do so.
“We are making progress with recruitment. We currently have 17.6 middle grades for all our A&Es at Lincoln, Pilgrim and Grantham. Although the numbers are higher than in August, they are still below the required number of 21 to have all three departments open 24/7.”
ULHT reviewed the opening hours of Grantham A&E at its board meeting in February and considered the views of the most senior consultants, A&E medical and nursing staff, stakeholders and the public in extending the hours.
The trust maintains its own data shows that the healthcare system is still coping with the overnight closure of Grantham A&E and that, on the whole, the impact has been small in the number of attendances and admissions at other A&Es.
The trust says it is still recruiting in the UK and abroad working with UK and international recruitment agencies. Directors will review the opening hours at a board meeting in May.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was to have been presented with an initial report this week by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel as to whether a full review should be carried out into the overnight closure of the Grantham A&E after the matter was raised by Lincolnshire’s Health Scrutiny Committee.