After months of campaigning, tens of thousands of signatures on the town MP's petition, and dozens of articles by the Burton Mail, Burton's Queen's Hospital has been given its clearest signal yet that its A&E department will stay open.
A forward-planning document looking at health provision in Staffordshire had cast doubt on the department's future, with the threat it could be downgraded to an urgent care centre meaning the town would lose its 24-hour emergency care cover.
But now it has been confirmed by the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which decides how funding is spent in the area, that it has no plans to close the vital facility.
The news comes as the department records some of the best waiting time results in the entire country, reaching a target of seeing all patients within four hours.
The continued future of the thriving A&E department has now been confirmed by bosses at the hospital and the CCG.
However the final decision on the Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), which is re-shaping the way services are offered in the NHS, is not due out until later this summer.
So while the final rubber-stamping on the deal is not due for a few months, it appears that hospital bosses and local health commissioning chiefs have no plans to close the department.
A spokesman for the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and East Staffordshire CCG said: "We are united in our commitment to the A&E at Queen's Hospital and we have no plans to close it.
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"We recognise the vital part that our A&E in Burton plays in the wellbeing of the local community.
"Our A&E staff work incredibly hard, often in very challenging circumstances, and deliver an outstanding performance in treating people quickly, efficiently and with compassion.
"In fact, the Queen's A&E is currently one of the top performers against the national four hour standard, and we are attracting the cream of the medical profession to come and work in the unit.
"We want local people to understand our commitment to the A&E services at Queen's Hospital and for our staff to feel reassured in their continuing career development with us.
"This is a great time to work at Queen's and we want to encourage more healthcare professionals, particularly nursing staff, to come and join the ranks of our high performing A&E."
The accident and emergency department has been given a big boost
"The Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) will enable us to deliver care closer to home for many of our services and to reduce the reliance on traditional hospital-based care. This is an exciting period of change for healthcare in the region and as part of the STP leadership, we are working hard to deliver on those commitments.
"It is only when we can achieve our goal of allowing more people to be treated out of hospital day-to-day, within their local community, that we can turn our attention to those services that deliver urgent care in a hospital setting, such as our local A&Es, to understand what people really need and how."
Burton's MP, Andrew Griffiths, who set up the petition to save Queen's A&E and has campaigned hard in the town, said: "I'm delighted that it appears that the campaign to save Burton's A&E has been won, and I would like to thank everybody involved in the campaign, including the Burton Mail, and every one of the more than 50,000 people who signed the petition, because we clearly demonstrated to the NHS bosses the strength of feeling and overwhelming support Burton A&E has in our community.
"This is a show of people power at its finest. The NHS chiefs were left in no doubt about how important this facility is to our town, and the battle they would have had on their hands had they tried to close it.
"Of course we will have to wait until the STP report is published in the summer before we can finally breathe a sigh of relief, but this is brilliant, encouraging news that our campaign has been so successful."
Burton's MP Andrew Griffiths has campaigned for the A&E to stay open
Dr Bill Gowans, medical director for the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent STP said: "The vision for the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) is one of helping people to stay well, and to receive the majority of the care they need closer to home. This involves looking at how we can get the right services out into the community and help people live healthier lives.
"If we can get that right, then a trip to A&E should go back to being for accidents and emergencies only, rather than what it has slowly become, which is the default option for urgent care.
"We know that A&Es across the country are currently under significant pressure to deliver the 95 per cent four hour target amid rising demand and the impact of an ageing population with complex health needs, as well as cuts to social care.
"We want to acknowledge and thank all of the staff who work hard within these departments, day in, day out, during a challenging time.
"The focus on A&Es is premature at this stage in the development of the STP and our priorities in the shorter term will be to concentrate on finding the right solution for our communities based on helping keep people well and out of hospital where we can.
"We will be doing this work in partnership with stakeholders, staff and the general public and welcome all input and feedback."
Just how well is the department performing at the moment?
The welcome news that the A&E department will be spared from the re-organisation under the STP plans comes as record results were reported for how quickly they see incoming patients.
The staff at Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are being praised by hospital chiefs for their hard work and commitment, as the trust's emergency department, which includes A&E and her minor injuries unit, continues to perform well nationally against the NHS waiting time targets.
More than 96 per cent of patients attending A&E at Queen's and the minor injuries units at Samuel Johnson Community Hospital, in Lichfield and Sir Robert Peel Community Hospital in Tamworth are currently being treated and discharged, or admitted to a ward for further treatment, within four hours. The national target for Trusts is 95 per cent.
Astonishingly, on several days this week every patient who required urgent or emergency care from the Trust was treated within four hours, with 100 per cent performance against the target.
Dr Magnus Harrison, executive medical director at the trust, said: "The trust's performance against the four-hour target has been phenomenal in recent weeks and it's only right that we praise our hard-working staff for their efforts.
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"As an A&E consultant, I know how hard it can be to provide patients with the right care in a timely fashion under the most extreme circumstances. So to record a performance of 100 per cent of patients seen and treated within four hours on consecutive days at this time of year is staggering.
"It has been a real team effort, from the staff working on the A&E and MIU shop floors to the ward staff to the staff working behind the scenes to keep the hospital running smoothly. We are absolutely committed now to maintaining the high standards of quality care we have set ourselves and that our patients expect and deserve."
Staff at the hospital receive their award, after they smashed their waiting times targets
Ahead of the traditionally-busy winter period, the trust launched a range of initiatives to help ease pressure on the Emergency Department.
These have included a new Surgical Assessment Unit, operating a streaming service in A&E to ensure patients are in the right place to receive their care at the right time, and opening a Paediatric Assessment Unit to effectively treat children who require urgent care. The Minor Injuries Units continue to deliver excellent and timely care in Lichfield and Tamworth.
The Trust has also been successful in recruiting a number of new consultants and middle-grade doctors to work in the Emergency Department at Queen's, to ensure the hospital now has a fully established emergency medical workforce.
Helen Scott-South, chief executive, added: "We are absolutely clear that we have no plans to close our A&E and that Burton Hospitals is a fantastic place both to work and to receive the care that you need.
"I'm incredibly proud of the commitment all our staff have shown to working through a hard winter to produce high-quality care. We are currently performing extremely well and it's our tremendous staff that have got us to this position.
"There are lots of opportunities within our A&E for people to flourish and grow in their healthcare careers, so please come and join us on our journey to delivering outstanding care."
What is the Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation plan?
The Sustainability and Transformation plan has highlighted the pressures and challenges ahead for the NHS across Staffordshire over the next five years. It plans to 'simplify the urgent and emergency care system' to improve waiting times and one of the proposals involved putting A&E departments at Burton Queen's Hospital, Royal Stoke and the County Hospital in Stafford under consideration to become an urgent care centre.
Those making the plans say that in four years' time, health and social care in Staffordshire will be in deficit and unless action is taking there may be funding gap of £542 million.
The report also sets out plans for
- An increase in services delivered in the community by 23 specialised "multi-disciplinary" teams based around local populations in Staffordshire of between 30,000-70,000.
- Encouraging more people to live healthily and avoid illness, and when they are ill to provide them with the tools and technology to help manage their own conditions
- Reducing local reliance on bed based services by improving community services, with people returning to their home after treatment as quickly as possible, wherever possible.
- Creating planned care centres of excellence to improve health outcomes, reduce duplication of services and make best use of NHS and Local Authority land and buildings