Stoke & Staffordshire

'Unsafe' Stafford hospital A&E closed to children

Stafford County Hospital
Image caption Stafford County Hospital's accident and emergency service for children closed at 10:00 BST on Thursday

Children's accident and emergency services at a troubled hospital have been suspended after senior staff said it was "not clinically safe".

A shortage of staff with the right specialist training at Stafford's County Hospital had forced the closure to patients under 18, the trust said.

The hospital, under its former guise of Stafford Hospital, was the subject of a public inquiry after a higher than expected number of deaths between 2005 to 2008.

The A&E department is open to adults.

More on this and other stories from Stoke and Staffordshire

Stafford Hospital timeline

Robert Francis QC, who led the public inquiry and which sat for a year between 2010 and 2011, made 290 recommendations calling for "fundamental change".

Some patients were left "sobbing and humiliated" due to mistreatment by staff, the inquiry heard.

Image caption Stafford Hospital was the subject of a major public inquiry into healthcare failings at the hospital

The trust which ran the then Stafford Hospital was dissolved and a new one, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, was created in November 2014.

In July 2015, the CQC said the trust 'required improvement' and in March 2016 it was reported it was facing fines of up to £9m for failing to meet government targets.

Consultant-led maternity care was also moved from County Hospital in July to the Royal Stoke University Hospital, when the new trust started running.

Liz Rix, chief nurse and acting deputy chief executive, said it was "a difficult short-term decision" to suspend the children's A&E service, which deals with about 30 children a day.

She said: "I fully appreciate the impact these temporary changes will have on families in Stafford and the surrounding area, and understand that people will be very concerned about this news.

"However, we cannot and will not continue to deliver services without the confidence that those services are safe."

Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy said he was "deeply disappointed" by the closure.

Stafford Borough Council leader Patrick Farrington said the situation was "unacceptable" and "devastating" for parents.

"This service must be reinstated as soon as it is safe to do so," he said.

Cheryl Porter, from Support Stafford Hospital, said the service was "very well run" and should not be moved.

"They took our children's services away today," she said.

"I've personally used it in the last few weeks."

Image caption County Hospital's children's accident and emergency department deals with about 30 patients each day

Concerns have been raised about what impact the closure will have on neighbouring services.

Ruth Smeeth, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said services in North Staffordshire were already running at high capacity.

She said: "Our health economy is as stretched as it could possibly be, and this is only going to add to the challenges we currently face."

Ian Syme, from campaign group North Staffordshire Healthwatch, said it was "the right thing to do" to suspend services if there were not enough paediatricians, however, he warned hospitals in nearby areas, such as Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton, could face a "surge" in demand.

He said: "I can understand the fears of the people in the Stafford area, but [suspending services] is the safest of the options."

A University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust spokesman said the suspension would not cause problems with capacity at other hospitals in the trust, adding Royal Stoke University Hospital was already the centre for children needing specialist care.

Analysis: BBC Midlands Today health correspondent Michele Paduano

I understand having spoken to some staff that they were told by email this morning, and there has been a meeting talking to staff about the reasons for this sudden change.

This has happened before in other areas such as Redditch - the worrying thing is why it's happened so suddenly.

There is a national shortage of paediatric consultants and doctors.

We'll have to wait and see if there's any chance of it reopening again.

University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust took over the County Hospital - formerly called Stafford Hospital - in October last year, after the previous trust was declared clinically and financially unviable.

The now-defunct Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was fined £500,000 last year after admitting four charges over the deaths of elderly people between 2005 and 2014. The most senior nurse disciplined after the inquiry was also struck off.

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