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Emergency doctor shortage leading to crisis in A&E, medics warn

Published 10/08/2016

A shortage of A&E doctors could put patients at risk, it is feared
A shortage of A&E doctors could put patients at risk, it is feared

A widening gap between the supply and demand for emergency doctors is leading to a crisis in A&E departments across the country, leading medics have warned.

The comments from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine come as an A&E in the East Midlands announced it may have to temporarily close its doors at night due to a national shortage of emergency doctors.

Hospital bosses at Grantham and District Hospital announced that it was looking to reduce A&E hours because it was facing a "severe shortage of doctors".

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the A&E as well as two others in the region, said that it had been "seriously affected" by a "national shortage of appropriately trained doctors to work in A&Es".

In a statement it said: "We have reached a crisis point and we may put patients at risk if we don't act."

Dr Suneil Kapadia, medical director at ULHT, said: "We haven't made a final decision yet, and we hope to avoid this, but the reality is we will need to temporarily reduce the opening hours of A&E at Grantham.

"The quality and safety of patient care is the Trust's number one priority and we haven't rested on our laurels.

"We have tried to recruit in the UK and internationally, and we have offered premium rates to attract agency doctors whilst investing £4 million in urgent care services. Despite this, we have reached crisis point."

Commenting on the news, Dr Clifford Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: "The great efforts made by doctors and nurses to help patients in under-resourced locations sometimes is not sustainable.

"As well as potentially putting patient safety at risk, placing an ever increasing workload on overstretched staff can create a vicious circle in retention and recruitment with many overworked trainees simply choosing to leave the country or indeed the specialty altogether.

"The wider picture is there is a real crisis in emergency medicine as our workforce numbers are not growing fast enough to keep pace with rising numbers of patients attending A&E Departments."

Chris Hopson, who heads the trade association for acute, ambulance, community and mental health services, said the Government needs to put more money in or "honestly and openly" admit the consequences of "the longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history".

The NHS Providers boss said costs rise between 3.5% and 4% every year due to population growth and the cost of new treatments but the health service has only received a 1% funding rise between 2010 and 2020.

"We have a gap between what we are asking the health service to produce and the amount of money available so we need a proper national debate about how we fill that gap," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We elect governments to set the financial envelope and the financial envelope has been set for this parliament and the reality is we cannot provide what we are being asked to provide in the service for that money."

The boss of NHS Clinical Commissioners, which represents clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), backed his call and said the problem was country-wide.

Dr Amanda Doyle told the programme: "I think commissioners all around the country are seeing it's increasingly difficult to balance the finances.

"The NHS doesn't have unlimited resources and so it's up to CCGs to make the difficult choices about what we can and cannot do with the money we've got."

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