Calderdale and Huddersfield’s cash-strapped NHS trust is planning for a potential closure of one of its A&E departments on safety grounds, it has emerged.
Trust bosses have drawn up a contingency plan to temporarily close either Huddersfield or Calderdale Royal Hospital’s emergency department because of concerns over whether the two A&Es are sustainable.
The trust’s “high level of concern” over A&E has emerged as the organisation faces a £25m deficit.
But bosses at the organisation said the potential closure, which would see one A&E close its doors overnight, was because of a national shortage of doctors and was not linked to finances.
Director of Operations, Helen Barker said: “We have continuity plans in place for all our services to ensure safe care for our patients continues during an emergency situation.
“As part of this we have a draft business continuity plan for the temporary overnight closure of one A&E should we be unable to secure safe staffing levels. This has been prompted by the ongoing national shortage of middle-grade doctors.”
The potential A&E closure emerged in a report to Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee.
It said: “The trust’s high level of concern regarding the sustainability of delivering A&E services on two sites has resulted in the trust developing a business continuity plan should there be an urgent need on the grounds of safety to temporarily close one of the A&E sites.”
Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust has shared the plan with the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) which commission hospital services, the report said.
Plans are being drawn up for a shake-up of hospital services which could see Halifax and Huddersfield served by a single A&E, along with urgent care centres treating less serious problems.
A public consultation by Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield (CCGs) has been delayed until next year.
But the report has raised fears that an A&E could close earlier, and during the winter when hospitals are treating greater numbers of patients.
Halifax MP Holly Lynch said: “This so-called continuity plan shows our local hospitals are at breaking point and our A&E simply cannot cope.
“The fact that it could be closed on safety grounds is extraordinary and very alarming.”
Calderale Council leader Tim Swift said: “With winter almost upon us, people in Calderdale and Huddersfield alike will be wondering how the NHS Trust could ever dream of having to close one of our A&E units.”
The scrutiny report also reveals that the trust has been required to hire a private consultancy firm to help make changes to hospital services.
“External support” was commissioned from accountancy firm Ernst and Young and a five-year plan will be drawn up by the end of December.
The trust agreed to bring in private consultants after financial problems led to it being in breach of its licence with the health regulator Monitor.
The report said: “One of the undertakings agreed with Monitor was that the trust would commission external support to enable development of a longer term strategic turnaround and sustainability plan.”
Ernst and Young’s involvement with other NHS trust’s has brought criticisms of public money being spent on costly private consultants.
Ms Lynch said: “Appointing expensive consultancies is not the way to sort out the hospital’s finances.
“It’s time the government intervened by providing additional financial support.”
Yesterday, Ms Lynch accused the Prime Minister David Cameron of backtracking on an election promise to keep Calderdale Royal Hospital’s A&E department open.