Stafford Hospital's A&E overnight closure extended

A&E building Managers had originally hoped to reopen Stafford Hospital's A&E unit overnight by March

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The closure of Stafford Hospital's accident and emergency unit has been extended until October.

A&E has been shut from 22:00 to 08:00 since December as Mid Staffordshire Trust tried to recruit more staff. The reopening was originally set for March.

It was then hoped it would reopen in June but the trust's board has said it will now happen in October "subject to sustaining" significant improvements.

The move would allow new staff to settle in, the trust added.

The hospital, which was the focus of a public inquiry into standards of care and higher-than expected mortality rates, was unable to recruit enough specialist staff to keep its A&E open 24 hours a day.

Patients have been taken to other A&Es, mainly to Queen's Hospital, Burton-upon-Trent, and University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke, the trust said.

Improvements 'embedded'

But managers have told the trust's board that staffing levels and government A&E waiting times were now being achived.

But the board, which closed the unit overnight for "safety reasons", wants to ensure improvements continue.

At a meeting in March the trust was told six senior emergency medicine clinicians had been recruited, one more than the target that had been set.

Five middle grade doctors needed were in place together with three locum doctors, the March meeting heard.

The trust said its "significant progress" was congratulated at a meeting of the Mid Staffordshire Commissioning Board on Tuesday.

"However, they also noted the clinical views about sustaining these improvements particularly in light of the number of newly-appointed A&E staff," a spokesman said.

"As a result of these discussions, it was jointly agreed, that we would work towards a reopening in October 2012, subject to sustaining the significant improvements already made."

Mild winter

However, Unison union said it had "concerns" about extending the closure until October.

Regional organiser Ray Salmon said: "We were very concerned when it shut in December - not just for the people of Stafford but because of the knock-on effect in the region."

He said Unison had been kept informed about the trust's progress and expected overnight opening to resume next month.

He added hospitals in the area had been "lucky" because a mild winter meant there had not been as many falls, while there were also fewer infections.

Mr Salmon said Unison would be meeting the trust on Thursday and asking questions such as why, if the new staff were sufficiently trained, additional time was needed.

The public inquiry, which was set up after a Healthcare Commission report in 2009, will publish its findings later this year.

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