Threat to the A & E and acute services of Causeway Hospital is reflected all over the UK

SIR - The looming threat to the A & E department and acute services of Causeway Hospital is reflected all over the United Kingdom where savage cuts are being applied to the National Health Service.

We learn from a recent national press report of the trauma being experienced in English communities by the wave of A & E department closures sweeping across the NHS, and we in the Causeway area appear to be following in the steps of these communities.

One example of many, is a market town in Nottinghamshire which had a highly-regarded local hospital only opened in 1996, with a 24/7 Accident & Emergency department which was a vital resource for people experiencing serious infections, heart or asthma attacks, and other life-threatening issues.

Now the hospital cannot admit anyone after 6pm. Its A & E Department has been replaced by a Minor Injuries Unit and Urgent Care Centre, which is not allowed to treat life-threatening conditions, and patients experience significantly longer ambulance journeys and increased waits at the A&Es that remain.

That community was told during an official ‘consultation’ in 2010 that when changes were imposed on its hospital the result would be an overall improvement in emergency care for everyone, because care would now be concentrated in fewer but better-equipped and more heavily staffed ‘centres of excellence’.

The policy was termed ‘right place, first time’, and the public was assured that the greater distances patients would have to travel would have no adverse impact; promises were made of ‘increased ambulance cover’.

Experience of the new regime has not borne out these promises and the national press has quoted specific examples of people in that community who, despite all these assurances, suffered complications of illness and, in one specific case, death because of the longer travelling time to an A & E hospital.

Jon Nicholl, Professor of Health Services Research at Sheffield University and former Deputy Chairman of the Medical Research Council’s Health Services & Public Health Research Board, co-wrote a four-year study of more than 10,000 ‘Category A’ emergency cases. T

he research, which was published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, found that longer A&E journeys led to ‘an increased risk of death’.

The report concluded: “Closing local emergency departments could result in an increase in mortality for... patients with life-threatening emergencies, who have to travel further as a result. The dangers posed by greater distances applied equally to all patients, irrespective of age, gender or illness.”

Professor Nicholl is quoted as stating recently that ‘modern ambulances are not hospitals on wheels and, if they’re not, then extra distance means extra risk, and this is unavoidable……. closing a department might make sense in one area, but it is being applied in others where it doesn’t fit very well.’

He added that the national ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would undoubtedly cost some patients their lives.

Contrast the foregoing with a recent statement by the Deputy Chief Executive of one of the English NHS Hospital Trust Boards: “High quality patient care remains the Trust’s top priority……we are successfully managing the increased demand and remain totally focused on maintaining the highest care quality standards.”

Should we expect to hear similar platitudes when the proposals for future health and hospital care in our area are revealed?

Grace Bowers

24 Woodvale Road

Portstewart