Health trust considers Army medics to staff Pontefract A&E

Pontefract Hospital Pontefract Hospital's A&E department has been closed overnight since 1 November

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A health trust which shut its A&E unit in Pontefract overnight due to doctor shortages is considering using Army medics in a bid to solve the problem.

The department has been closed from 22:00 to 08:00 each day since November following the move by the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

The trust said it was looking at how Army medical staff could provide support on a temporary basis.

The night-time closure has drawn criticism from residents and MPs.

Wakefield Council's social care and health scrutiny committee met earlier to look at how the closure has affected people.

Councillor Betty Rhodes, chair of the committee, said members were "surprised" when the trust informed them of its approach to the Army.

"We found out for the first time that in order to look to reduce the gap, the trust had approached the Army to bring some medical staff in and they told us they haven't had a reply from the Army."

She added: "I actually asked them to reiterate the word in terms of the Army coming in."

Committee 'sceptical'

Ms Rhodes said the committee was "sceptical" of the trust's attempts to try to recruit doctors to enable the unit to reopen fully.

"The trust told us... they were finding it very difficult to find the middle management doctors that were necessary to provide the overnight service.

"Today we were very sceptical... because we have seen evidence other trusts, such as Mid Staffordshire, have actually resulted in their recruitment drive with a shortlist of 14 for their middle management."

In a statement, the trust said: "We have made contact with the Army and had early exploratory conversations."

A spokesperson for the trust said earlier it would reopen the unit as soon as enough doctors could be recruited to staff it safely.

The spokesperson said it was looking at a range of options based on the experience of other trusts.

"One of these options was to look at how medical staff who have been trained by the Army could provide some support on a temporary basis.

"We are in the early stages of looking at the viability of this as one of several possible options and there are no confirmed plans."

However, a Department of Health spokeswoman said there was no doctor shortage issue at Pontefract and that the MoD had told her it had received no approach from the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

'Very unusual'

Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, said she welcomed any action which would mean additional doctors at the hospital, but she believed it was not a long-term solution.

"Clearly, the Army's priority is to be able to support their wounded soldiers and their personnel," she said.

"And while we want to do everything possible to get Pontefract A&E open, I think the government also needs to answer how it has come to this and why hospitals are now reliant on the Army."

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs Committee, said a hospital calling for help from Army doctors was "very, very unusual".

"We need to ask why doctors are not seeking to work at Pontefract Hospital or responding to the recruitment drive they have initiated," he said.

"There simply aren't that many Army-trained doctors sitting twiddling their thumbs," he added.

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