Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 18:08 UK

Doctor shortage fears at hospital

Horton Hospital
Consultants have said they will provide emergency cover if agencies fail to

Health managers are braced for possible temporary closures of the children's ward at Banbury's Horton Hospital because of "major" staffing problems.

They have only one of the seven registrar doctors needed to provide emergency cover.

The hospital is having to rely heavily on temporary locum doctors - while a special board seeks a long-term future for services at the hospital.

One option being considered is to recruit doctors from overseas.

'Intermediate risk'

The hospital says there is an increased risk of emergency temporary closures if it cannot find enough locums to be on duty overnight and at weekends.

The Oxford Racliffe Hospitals NHS Trust warned this would happen when it planned to move overnight children's care to Oxford just over a year ago.

But the Secretary of State for Health rejected this plan because of the impact on local families.

The PCT was ordered to keep the service going for two years while a local health coalition called the Better Healthcare Programme Board tried to find ways to run it safely in the future.

Hospital ward
There is less than a year left to secure services at the Horton

The European Time Directive limits the numbers of hours doctors can work, which means more doctors are need to fill the shifts. However, the hospital does not have enough staff in paediatrics.

Dr David Lindsell, a director of the Radcliffe Trust, said: "We have done risk assessments of the current plan and that's been risk assessed as an intermediate level of risk.

"It's the level of risk that if managed you can run with for a period of time but clearly it requires very close monitoring."

A working party has been set up to consider various ideas including recruiting extra consultants for the coming year and recruiting doctors from India.

In a statement, the Better Healthcare Programme Board, which includes the Radcliffe Trust and the PCT, said: "Everyone involved hopes that these plans will ensure that the service can continue.

"However, the risks remain a concern to all involved and the situation will be monitored very closely.

"Although everything possible will be done to avoid temporary inpatient closure, it is important to have plans for dealing with this should it become essential."

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