THE paediatric department at the Alexandra Hospital is to close in September, with services transferring to Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
The shock news, slammed as a ‘bad day for the people of Redditch’ by Save the Alex chairman Neal Stote, means all in-patient care for children will now be carried out at Worcester, 18 miles away.
Described as ‘temporary’ by the local health trust, the likelihood is the move is in fact permanent.
Health chiefs said staff at the 12-bed unit at the Alex will transfer to Worcester and there would be no redundancies.
The decision is the latest blow to health provision at the Alex which has seen first gynaecology cases, then maternity cases and now in-patient children’s care transferred out of the borough.
A plan for the future of health care proposed by Worcester Acute hospitals NHS Trust (WAHT) recently approved by regional health bosses will see more serious accident and emergency care for adults also transfer to Worcester.
Chief Nurse Jan Stevens, herself a Redditch resident, said the decision to close the children’s ward at the Alex was not something WAHT had taken lightly but their hand had been forced by a shortage of doctors and the issue of patient safety.
“We have known that the department has been quite fragile, particularly with not enough doctors, and trying to staff two medical rotas was just unsustainable. As a result it made sense to move the beds.”
She acknowledged that for parents without their own transport – and Redditch has the lowest level of car ownership in Worcestershire – the closure would cause problems for mums and dads desperate to see their child in hospital.
“I agree it’s not an easy thing for parents but I think they will understand and want their child to be in the safest place,” she said.
She added that the Trust was making the announcement now to fully inform families of the health options open to them when the service goes.
“Can I emphasise that the Alex will still see children and parents can still bring their children to the Alex, that’s fine,” said Mrs Stevens.
“In the Emergency Department we have A&E doctors and nurses and, just as now, they are trained to look after children and if they deem it necessary a child will be transferred by ambulance to Worcester.”
Talking on the shortage of doctors she added: “The impression seems to be that we alone as an NHS trust are struggling with staff, but we are not alone.
“This is a challenge for the whole NHS and we are no different, but this is not about us sitting in a room seeking to make cuts this is about us making good decisions given the challenges we have got.”
Dr Richard Davies, speaking on behalf of the three Worcestershire GP clinical commissioning groups said: “We have known for some time that the paediatric service has been fragile at Alexandra Hospital but we had hoped that the Trust could keep it going until the public consultation on the acute services review had taken place. However, this is no longer possible. We have a responsibility to commission safe and secure services and the shortage of staff means it would be unsafe to continue with the current arrangements.
“The Trust’s decision to temporarily transfer inpatient paediatric care is therefore understandable and reasonable.”
Neal Stote of Save the alex said: “We are deeply disappointed but not surprised by this. Another part of the clinical model has been forced through under the guise of a ‘temporary’ closure ahead of the planned consultation which is fast becoming a joke.
“This isn’t temporary but a permanent move in the same way the removal of maternity was. The focus now must be on ensuring the arrangements for what parents with sick children do from September are properly explained and there is widespread understanding of them.
“They need to get out from behind their desks in Worcester and make a proper effort to reach as many parents as possible who will be deeply worried by this decision. They owe us that at least.”