Sidcup hospital to close A&E and maternity over winter
A south London hospital has said it has to shut its A&E and maternity departments for the winter as it cannot guarantee the safety of patients.
The closures at the Queen Mary's hospital come after managers said they may not be able to cope with the normal surge in cases due to a lack of staff.
Staff at the hospital in Sidcup were told about the closures on Wednesday.
The Department of Health said the units "should temporarily close while there are concerns" over patient care.
The hospital's bosses called in a team of experts from NHS London to assess the situation after internal concerns were raised over the summer.
The experts found both the A&E and maternity departments were facing severe staffing problems.
They suggested three possible courses of action - to shut the units immediately; to shut the units over the coming weeks or to keep them open and try to make it through the winter.
The Chief Executive of South London Healthcare Trust, Chris Streather, said: "What we did in the early summer was, I asked my medical director and the director of nursing to look at A&E and maternity very carefully to see if they are safe now and whether they can be kept safe for the whole of the winter period.
"Their conclusion was they were very anxious that we couldn't and that things wouldn't be safe over the winter period."
He added: "Why we can't guarantee safety over the winter is the shortage of staff.
"For middle grade doctors in A&E more than 50% of the posts are vacant in two of our three sites and in midwifery I think we have 42 vacancies and some of those staff because of the uncertainty are voting with their feet and leaving."
The previous Labour government had planned to permanently close both the units as part of a reorganisation of healthcare in London, which led to a recruitment problem for the hospital.
Following the election in May, the new coalition government announced a halt to all plans to close A&E and maternity services.
That, said insiders at Queen Mary's hospital, has made it even more difficult to attract staff, as the future of the units remain unclear.
A spokeswoman for Department of Health said: "Patient safety and high quality care must remain the priority for the NHS.
"The A&E and obstetric services at Queen Mary's should temporarily close while there are concerns that they don't meet the high standards that patients deserve.
"The Secretary of State has pledged that, in future, all service changes must be led from the bottom-up by clinicians, patients and local authorities with an improved focus on quality."