Stafford Hospital's A&E department to close at night
Plans to temporarily close Stafford Hospital's accident and emergency (A&E) unit at night have been approved.
Managers met on Thursday to discuss the future of emergency services at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
The trust has approved a three-month closure of A&E from 22:00 until 08:00, starting on 1 December.
It estimates about 27 patients every night would have to seek help at hospitals in Wolverhampton, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent and Burton.
Chief Executive, Lynn Hill-Tout, said there was a national shortage of A&E consultants and adverse publicity had further hampered the hospital's recruitment efforts.
"Our Emergency Department is safe," said Ms Hill-Tout.
"However because of the number of doctor vacancies we need to close it temporarily at night, which will allow resources to be focused on daytime activity, thus increasing quality of care and this will also allow a period for intense staff development.
"Our overriding concern is to keep patients safe.
"I am very aware of the concerns of local people and I can assure them that there is no intention for this to be a permanent closure."Contingency plans
The leader of Stafford Borough Council, Mike Heenan, is planning to head a delegation to London to fight for the return of a full time A&E department for Stafford Hospital.
Councillor Heenan said it was "an unfortunate" decision which affects the 300,000 people the hospital served.
"They have announced this to be a temporary closure but I and my colleagues will want assurances from the minister [Heath Minister Simon Burns] that it will be only temporary and a 24/7 A&E service will be restored as soon as possible."
The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust is now making contingency plans to cope with more patients.
Its Chief Executive David Loughton said: "Clearly, this will have a direct impact on A&E services here at New Cross Hospital [in Wolverhampton], and we are now planning what this will mean for us."
Julia Bridgewater, Chief Executive at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire Trust, said: "We are one NHS and all of us have an obligation to help provide safe care of good quality for patients throughout the country.
"Because University Hospital has nine Emergency consultants, we are in a reasonable position to offer support to night-time emergency patients who would otherwise have attended Stafford Hospital.
"We will need to look at night time staffing levels and the impact on bed capacity.
"The Trust is soon to be granted Trauma Centre status and, with the move into the new hospital next March, it means that we will be in a position to lend our support.
"It should be noted that University Hospital already takes patients from the Stafford area suffering from various conditions, such as hyper acute stroke and trauma patients."Public inquiry
Last month the A&E department at Stafford Hospital was issued with a formal warning after inspectors found a lack of suitably qualified or trained nursing staff on duty during an unannounced visit.
Ms Hill-Tout said the warning had come as a surprise because A&E was regularly discussed with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the primary care trust, the strategic health authority and Monitor.
After a follow-up inspection, the CQC said it only had moderate concerns about the department.
Stafford Hospital has been the subject of an 11-month public inquiry after a higher than expected number of deaths from 2005 to 2008.
The inquiry has been looking at the role of health monitoring and regulatory bodies at the hospital during the three-year period.
It has heard from 179 people, including patients, staff, relatives, politicians and regulators.
The chairman is due to publish a final report in the new year.