HOSPITAL bosses have given their strongest warning yet they are prepared to push ahead with changes to services on safety grounds even if the ongoing county reconfiguration project is not completed.
Senior members of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust say they have growing concerns about the safety and sustainability of a number of services including maternity, paediatrics, neonatal and emergency surgery, with some complex procedures having already been moved from the Alexandra Hospital to the Worcestershire Royal.
The countywide reconfiguration project was set-up in January 2012 to address those concerns but has been repeatedly delayed. It had been hoped plans to downgrade the Alex by centralising part of A&E, consultant-led maternity services and inpatient paediatrics into Worcester would go out to public consultation this month.
But NHS England blocked the move amid concerns about the business case supporting the planned changes, particularly patient choice and how it would be implemented. GPs in Redditch and Bromsgrove have since questioned the safety and sustainability of the plan.
The West Midlands Clinical Senate is set to review the proposals in mid-October and subject to approval by NHS England it is hoped consultation will begin in November, however that could face political opposition with a General Election just months away.
However the Trust has now sent a clear signal it is not prepared to wait forever for the process to be completed.
Mark Wake, the Trust’s chief medical officer, is chairing a sub-committee to monitor the safety and sustainability of services until the process is completed.
And Chris Tidman, Trust deputy chief executive, told a board meeting on Wednesday (September 24) if it was felt services were at risk they would have to act.
“What we can’t all do is wait for a process and find our services are diminished or destabilised.”
Trust chairman Harry Turner told the Standard there was ‘no way’ they would let quality and safety deteriorate.
“The guys in women’s and children’s are working increasingly hard to maintain safe services but we don’t know how long they can keep that up and the delays in this process – not just the current delay but since the project started – make the possibility of unsafe services more and more likely.”
Mr Turner also could not guarantee even if the process was completed there would not be the need for emergency closures during the two years it would take to implement the plan.
That would cause capacity issues as to make the reconfiguration work £35million to £40million needs to be spent improving the Redditch and Worcester sites and funding is not available outside of the reconfiguration project.
If action is needed beforehand it could result in the use of temporary accommodation or even the suspension of services none of which Mr Turner said was ‘palatable’.