Warning over cuts threat to A&E

MARK NICHOLLS Hospital bosses last night warned that patient safety could be jeopardised in some rural parts of Norfolk if accident and emergency cover was downgraded.

MARK NICHOLLS

Hospital bosses last night warned that patient safety could be jeopardised in some rural parts of Norfolk if accident and emergency cover was downgraded.

The fears come as Prime Minister Tony Blair and health secretary Patricia Hewitt heralded a new era of NHS reforms, which could see a major shake-up of A&E departments.

Under the plans, the health secretary said casualty services would divide into three kinds, with “super A&Es” for people with the most serious conditions, local A&Es for most treatment and the A&E for more minor injuries.

However, senior staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn have warned that any change to A&E services in that part of the county will need careful consideration.

The QEH, with the nearest alternative A&E departments 40 miles away at Cambridge and Peterborough, is already under the spotlight by the East of England Strategic Health Authority's review of healthcare provision in the region.

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QEH medical director Dr Geoff Hunnam said: “We do not know the effect locally as it is still uncertain as to whether any A&E would be closed down in East Anglia. But we would be very anxious about the impact on patients if there were to be any closures and we would want to ensure that patients were directed to the correct place at the correct.”

Yesterday Ms Hewitt insisted that plans to reform A&E services were not about money but about “saving people's lives” and Mr Blair pledged the “best is yet to come” in the NHS.

The other main A&E departments in Norfolk felt they would not be affected.

But the Pound Lane Walk-in Centre in Norwich - which falls into the minor injuries A&E sector - is facing an uncertain future with funding under review as Norfolk Primary Care Trust which runs it strives to cut a £50m deficit.

N&N spokeswoman Hayley Gerard said: “At this stage we would not expect to see a particular change for us but in some of the larger cities in this country it may be a different scenario.”

The James Paget University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Wendy Slaney added: “There is no doubt at all about the future of the James Paget and its A&E department. We have a bright future ahead of us as a trust.”

Two new reports - from Professor Roger Boyle, national director for heart disease and strokes, and his colleague, Sir George Alberti, national director for emergency access - called for changes to local casualty units to create centralised specialist centres for the most serious conditions, and the treatment of more people in their homes.

But Karen Jennings, head of health at the union Unison, said: “We are extremely concerned that these policies may be being driven by deficits, not what is best for patient care.”

Chief executive of the West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds, Chris Bown said: “The reports from Sir George Alberti and Professor Roger Boyle underline the fact that the NHS is in the middle of a period of rapid change. We are looking to find the best ways to provide all services the public need, including A&E, with our own review.”