Hospitals call in Army: Staffing crisis in casualty wards forces NHS bosses to turn to military medics
Pontefract Hospital has struggled to recruit middle-management doctorsShadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, described offered solution as 'deeply worrying'
A recruitment crisis has forced hospitals to call in Army medical staff to run their accident and emergency departments.
The national shortage of ‘mid-grade’ doctors – posts between junior doctors and consultants – means some hospitals have 30 per cent fewer staff than they need, figures show.
This has led to NHS trusts being forced to close units overnight because there are not enough staff to ensure they are safely run.
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
Yesterday it emerged that Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust has called the Army Medical Service to ask for cover to try to restore a 24-hour emergency service.
Pontefract Hospital A&E has, since November, been closed between 10pm and 6am due to a shortage of mid-grade doctors.
Around 12,000 residents have signed a petition pleading for Pontefract A&E to be re-opened. Meanwhile, Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust has confirmed that, until last month, doctors and nurses from the Army and RAF had been working in its A&E.
The staffing crisis has been blamed on soaring admissions caused by binge-drinking and patients unable to see an out-of-hours GP. Critics described the situation as ‘deeply worrying’ and blamed the Government’s controversial health reforms.
Normal working conditions: Army medics tend to an injured Afghan soldier in Helmand province
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham
said that in the past shortages would have been solved by Strategic
Health Authorities, which are to be scrapped.
He said: ‘The dangerous decision to
dismantle existing NHS structures before Parliament has approved new
ones is exposing hospitals and patients to unacceptable risks. Essential
tasks such as workforce planning across hospitals, to resolve these
problems, have been disrupted. There is a loss of grip and focus at
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper,
who is MP for Pontefract and Castleford, said: ‘It is deeply worrying
that two hospitals have had to seek help from the Army because of the
shortage of doctors and the Government needs to explain urgently why
they have allowed it to come to this and what action ministers will take
to deliver the doctors we need.’
Short-term solution: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, described the trust's proposed solution as 'deeply worrying'
Dr Taj Hassan, vice-president of the
College of Emergency Medicine, which provided the national shortage
figures, said fewer junior doctors wanted to specialise in A&E as
the departments have become increasingly intense.
The number of admissions has soared in recent years and he pointed to the binge-drinking culture, as well as patients not being able to see a GP whenever they want. Dr Hassan added that gaps in the rota were caused by a EU diktat stipulating junior doctors could only work a maximum of 48 hours a week
Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust confirmed two doctors and five nurses from the Army and RAF helped man Stafford Hospital’s A&E department between October and December. The trust has struggled to recruit staff in the wake of a care scandal which is thought to have cost the lives of up to 1,200 patients.
Professor Tim Hendra, medical director at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said there had only been ‘very early exploratory conversations with the Army’.
It followed a review by the trust, Strategic Health Authority and Primary Care Trust, he added.
‘These doctors would be trained medical staff not on military service who could provide temporary support with our staffing rotas,’ he said. ‘This is only offered in exceptional circumstances.’
A Department of Health spokesman denied there was a shortage of doctors at Pontefract.