Your hospital questions answered

The A&E Department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
The A&E Department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

THE latest twist in the future of the University Hospital of Hartlepool emerged last week when it was revealed the accident and emergency department was to close.

This is not a case of anyone letting the hospital get run down – we are continuing to invest in the hospital right now to ensure that vital services, including an enhanced emergency medical admissions unit, are in place for those who need urgent hospital-based care.

Despite every possible effort, we have found it difficult to secure sufficient qualified and enough senior medical staff to meet the ever-increasing standards now required to run a safe A&E service.

l IF my child was to be knocked down in Victoria Road, where would they be taken?

It would depend on the seriousness of the injury. If the child was badly hurt then people should do as they do now, phone 999 and allow the ambulance service to assess the seriousness of the injuries and take the child to the appropriate accident and emergency unit (the University Hospital of North Tees for internal injuries and broken bones which may need surgery; The James Cook University Hospital for serious head injuries).

This is how this service has been since December 2007.

l IF I thought my child had a high temperature and GP surgeries were closed, where would I go?

The walk-in centre, currently situated on Victoria Road, is available for such services from 8am-8pm, seven days a week, including bank holidays and weekends and can be contacted on (01429) 890947.

If this happened during the night, then worried parents should contact the out-of-hours service run by GPs at One Life Hartlepool by calling (01429) 285800, or contact their own GP in the usual way.

l WITH hospital bus services now being cut to North Tees, what is going to be done about transport issues?

We do appreciate that transport is a concern for people, and together with our local authority partners we are already looking at how we can address these concerns both now and in the future.

l WHY is the Hartlepool trust joined with the Stockton trust, and who decided to do this?

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has been one organisation since 1999.

Changes in the way services are being delivered have come about as part of the momentum: pathways to healthcare programme, which aims to: provide as many services as possible in or close to people’s homes, build a network of integrated care centres (One Life Hartlepool is the first of these; centres in Stockton and Billingham will follow and then illnesses and injuries will be dealt with in the same way as in Hartlepool), build a new hospital for the people of Hartlepool, Stockton and parts of Easington and Sedgefield.

l IF someone suffered a heart attack in Hartlepool town centre, what would happen to the stricken person?

The person or their relative would call 999 and the ambulance paramedics would assess the situation.

If the person needed primary angioplasty (a procedure to unblock the blocked artery using a tiny device called a stent) they would be taken straight to James Cook University Hospital where this would be carried out by a specialist team who are available 24 hours a day.

Alternatively, the patient would be taken to the emergency assessment unit at the University Hospital of Hartlepool to be assessed by the heart specialists there.

l BECAUSE there is a greater distance for ambulances to travel to North Tees, does that mean there is a greater risk to patients?

No, absolutely not. The important thing is to dial 999 if the injury or illness is sufficiently serious.

These days, ambulances are staffed by highly-skilled paramedics who stabilise the person at the scene and take them to the most appropriate hospital.

It’s more important to see health professionals like ambulance paramedics straightaway, so that on-board treatment can be started on the way to the most appropriate hospital where the expert team is based.

l ARE there any plans to increase the hours at the One Life?

One Life Hartlepool is currently open from 8am-6.30pm Monday to Friday for the majority of services, including a pharmacy, respiratory unit for chronic chest problems, three GP practices, an assessment area for back and leg problems, a podiatric unit, dedicated dental suites, an audiology clinic and a general clinic with day surgery facilities.

In addition, an out-of-hours service run by GPs at One Life Hartlepool is available after 6pm through to 8am in the morning, Monday to Friday and 24 hours a day at weekends and on bank holidays.

To contact One Life Hartlepool, call (01429) 285800.

The review panel has recommended that a 24-hour integrated minor injuries, out-of-hours and walk-in service should be developed as soon as possible and we will now work together with emerging GP commissioners and the Health Scrutiny Forum to steer this process forwards.

l IF the centre was to become more of an urgent care centre when A&E closes, what do you propose to do to address vehicular access issues and parking?

This will, of course, be considered as part of the work that now takes place. There is, however, already provision for emergency vehicle access, disabled access, a drop-off point and some limited parking within the One Life facility. In addition, there is significant public parking available across the road.

One Life is also very accessible by public transport with all bus routes stopping close to the facility.

l BEARING in mind there are some financial issues to be ironed out over the new Wynyard site, if it did not go ahead would A&E still close?

Yes. This is because safety standards are, quite rightly, always increasing and despite a great deal of effort, we have been unable to recruit sufficient qualified and senior enough medical staff to run a safe A&E service.

Our absolute priority has to be the safety of patients when they are in our care and the decision to close A&E – when alternative services are available – has been taken for no other reason than to ensure people receive the safest possible care.

l IF the Wynyard hospital does go ahead, will A&E in Hartlepool close before the new one opens?

Yes, the current service cannot be safely sustained and the panel has recommended it should close as soon as alternative 24-hour urgent care services are in place in Hartlepool and understood by local people.

l A NUMBER of services have already been moved out of the University Hospital of Hartlepool – is the A&E closure another step to closing the hospital altogether?

Definitely not. We want to continue providing two vibrant hospitals in the lead up to the proposed new hospital and people can expect to see new services at the University Hospital of Hartlepool - we are already investing in the enhanced emergency admissions unit there.

l THE report suggests that the hospital is so lacking in staff it is becoming unfit for purpose – so where have all the staff gone since the hospital was top-star rated?

Clearly, this statement was not in any way a reflection on the staff who are currently working in the department.

As explained, we have been unable to sustain the amount of doctors we need to run a safe A&E service and this is partly because standards, rightly so, continue to get higher and higher every year.

l HAVE there been recruitment drives to address the shortfall in staffing levels?

Yes, we have tried on many occasions to attract staff but this has proved impossible.

Our forward planning has also shown that because of reduced numbers of doctors in training, that this problem will only get worse – which is why we need to take these appropriate steps now.

l WHEN A&E closes, are you confident you can provide adequate services for the people of Hartlepool and surrounding areas?

Yes. No changes will go ahead without everyone being involved and satisfied that the changes meet the needs of local people.

Most importantly, we must ensure that people understand how and where to access urgent care before the A&E closes.

l WHY has it been impossible to attract the level and quality of medical staff needed to make the A&E department “fit for purpose”?

We have been unable to attract and sustain the number of qualified and senior enough medical staff that we need to run a safe A&E service – unfortunately, and despite our best efforts – this is sometimes out of our control as those who are available tend to choose larger centres to work in. Home Office rules also mean we are very limited in overseas recruitment.

l WILL this put a further strain on already-stretched police resources who will now have to travel to North Tees after incidents – especially on busy weekends?

As part of the work that will now take place, we will of course discuss any proposed new arrangements with the police to ensure they can make resources available to deal with incidents.

l WILL people in east Durham who currently use A&E in Hartlepool be expected to travel to Sunderland as their nearest casualty department?

The best advice for anyone who is seriously ill or injured and needs to attend A&E is to ring 999 for an emergency ambulance and let the paramedics decide on the most appropriate receiving hospital.

People in east Durham of course may choose to go to Sunderland or to the University Hospital of North Tees but should remember that they can attend local minor injuries units for less serious problems.

This is all about having the right treatment in the right place, and making sure you choose the NHS service that is most appropriate for your needs.

There is no need for people to travel to an accident and emergency department for minor illnesses and injuries which can be looked after locally by minor injuries units, walk-in centres or GP out-of-hours services.

To find your nearest local services visit www.nhs.uk.

l WILL existing staff at A&E lose their jobs?

No. We very much value our existing staff who are wholly committed to providing care for local people.

We look forward to them continuing to do this, albeit in a different setting, as the plans for urgent care in Hartlepool now progress.

l WILL there be a cost implication in closing A&E and setting up other urgent care services elsewhere?

Yes, as with any service change, this is likely. Part of the work we need to do now, is consider any additional funding that will be required to make sure we provide safe and effective urgent care for people in Hartlepool.