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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 July 2006, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
NHS cash crisis hitting A&E units
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Paramedics
There are 200 A&E units in England
Accident and emergency units are being scaled back to bail the NHS out of its cash problems, doctors say.

The British Association for Emergency Medicine said the spate of cuts was putting patients at risk by stranding them miles from casualty departments.

In many cases - some of which are still under consideration - the units have been made into minor injury departments which tend to be nurse-led.

NHS bosses said they have been forced into the drastic changes to break even.

It is not clear how many of England's 200 casualty departments have been affected, but the BAEM said the rate of closures was increasing.

These are among the most important services at hospitals, without them people will die
Kate Wilkinson, councillor and campaigner

Its president, Martin Shalley, said: "As well as leaving some patients miles from essential services, these plans are putting too much strain on nearby hospitals.

"The motive is to save money and that is not right. "

"A&E is an easy target as it is relatively expensive and the running costs are hard to predict because you do not know how many patients need to be treated.

"If we keep stripping these services, we will put patients at risk."

And he added the moves were even more perplexing as hospitals had spent the last few years investing in A&E services to meet government waiting time targets.

Last year Bristol's Southmead Hospital became a minor injuries unit, Kent and Canterbury Hospital stopped taking trauma patients and West Sussex's Princess Royal Hospital started referring patients with serious injuries to nearby facilities.

United Lincolnshire NHS Trust is currently looking at whether the local Grantham and Skegness hospitals should lose their A&E units.

Complain

And plans are being considered by health bosses in Lancashire to scale down services at Burnley Hospital.

Local MP Kitty Ussher has written to the local trust to complain about the plans.

She said: "It is undisputed that the additional journey time will place my constituents in unnecessary risk, and it is undisputed that some people may die as a result."

Campaigner Kate Wilkinson, an independent councillor on Enfield Council who was elected on the platform of saving her local A&E department, added: "These are among the most important services at hospitals, without them people will die.

"And my fear is that if they go, it becomes easier to take away specialities as they will no longer be required by A&E."

NHS managers the BBC spoke to said they were under pressure from the government to make "drastic cuts" as ministers had promised the NHS would break even by the end of this financial year. It is currently 512m in deficit.

One said: "There is a slash and burn policy going on just so the government can keep to its promise. It is not in the best interest of patients or the health service."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "There are a few reconfigurations being talked about locally at the moment, but there's obviously a legal duty for full public consultation in those situations, and also there are even tighter rules over A&Es."


SEE ALSO
MP speaks out over hospital plans
05 Jul 06 |  Lancashire
NHS trust cuts more than 600 jobs
27 Jun 06 |  Lincolnshire
A&E expert visits troubled town
01 Aug 05 |  Southern Counties
A&E change causes ambulance waits
15 Sep 04 |  Southern Counties

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