THE night-time closure of A&E services in Stafford is helping place ‘serious pressure’ on Burton’s Queen’s Hospital, the Mail can reveal.
The strain on services has forced health chiefs to urge patients only to attend A&E in genuine emergencies and consider alternatives before visiting casualty.
A spokesman for the Staffordshire primary care trusts (PCTs) said: “Currently the ambulance service and A&E services in Burton and Stafford are under serious pressure. This is creating longer waiting times.”
Scandal-hit Stafford Hospital shuts its A&E department between 10pm and 8am.
Queen’s Hospital initially predicted it would receive just one Stafford patient every three evenings, but this has actually been as many as seven a night.
The Belvedere Road hospital said it had also seen an increase in A&E patient numbers from throughout its catchment area, not just from Stafford.
A spokesman said: “Patient numbers from across our region are generally up — that’s including South Staffordshire, South Derbyshire and North West Leicestershire.
“It’s not specifically a pressure from Stafford but across the whole region.”
The Mail reported last week how Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Queen’s, had drawn up plans to cope with the winter when A&E services are traditionally busier.
Measures included boosting the number of workers in the emergency department and having a ‘robust plan’ to increase bed capacity.
Health officials have advised patients to visit either Cannock Chase Hospital, Sir Robert Peel Hospital in Tamworth or Samuel Johnson Community Hospital’s minor injuries unit in Lichfield to reduce pressure on casualty in Burton and Stafford.
The PCT spokesman said: “We want to remind people of the alternatives to A&E,” but added: “If your issue is a lifethreatening emergency, including choking, chest pain, loss of consciousness, severe blood loss, broken bones, difficulty breathing, deep wounds or a suspected stroke, then please dial 999.”
The PCT said NHS Direct, GPs’ surgeries and pharmacies could offer advice on health problems not serious enough to warrant an A&E visit.
Stafford Hospital closed its emergency department at night initially to cope with a critical shortage of doctors.
It was judged last month to be safe to reopen by the hospital’s directors, but the PCT decided to delay the reopening due to doubts about the ‘sustainability of a 24-hour service’.
It said it would only take one doctor to go off sick to force A&E to shut again at nights.