Hospital may 'call in the Army' to staff desperately short-staffed A&E

An NHS trust that is so short-staffed at one hospital they have had to close the A&E department at night, has asked the Army to lend them some medics.

The casualty department at Pontefract Hospital, which is part of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, has been shut from 10pm to 8am since November 1 due to shortages in middle-management doctors.

The closure has been much criticised by locals and MPs and staff at the hospital have now asked the Army for temporary support – much to the surprise of Wakefield Council.

Desperate solution Pontefract's casualty department in the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is shut from 10pm to 8am due to shortages in middle management doctors

Desperate solution Pontefract's casualty department in the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is shut from 10pm to 8am due to shortages in middle management doctors

Councillor Betty Rhodes, chair of the council's social care and health scrutiny committee which met earlier to look at how the closure has affected locals, said members were surprised to hear that the Army had been considered.

She told the BBC: '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.'

While the Trust claims it has tried to recruit the staff needed, Ms Rhodes pointed out that nearby trusts have been overwhelmed with applicants for similar posts.

She said: 'The Trust told us… they were finding it very difficult to find the middle management doctors that were necessary to provide the overnight service.

Normal working conditions: Army medics tend to an injured Afghan soldier in Helmand province

Normal working conditions: Army medics tend to an injured Afghan soldier in Helmand province

'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.'

The trust has promised to open the unit as soon as it can staff it properly.

In a statement they said they were looking into various solutions.

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

Short-term solution: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, described the trust's proposed solution as 'deeply worrying'

Short-term solution: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, described the trust's proposed solution as 'deeply worrying'

'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.'

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, described the trust's proposed solution as 'deeply worrying'.

It follows a similar move from a trust in Staffordshire which appealed to the Army for help last year.

She said: 'The Government needs to explain how it has come to this, with two NHS hospital trusts now needing help from the Army to keep services open.

'Twelve thousand people have signed our petition to get Pontefract A&E re-opened and we want to see action by Mid Yorkshire Trust to deliver on their promises to local people.

'So clearly, action which brings additional doctors into Pontefract to re-open services is important and welcome.

'Mid Yorkshire Trust have been advised by outside experts to seek help from the Army Medical Service as Mid Staffordshire has done in order to keep their A&E services open 24 hours.

'But everyone recognises the priority for the Army Medical Service must be the lives and the health of our soldiers and army personnel and this is clearly not a long-term solution.'