Redbridge politicians react to winter closure of King George Children’s Emergency Department

King George Hospital in Goodmayes. Photo: Ken Mears

King George Hospital in Goodmayes. Photo: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Redbridge politicians have reacted to the news that the children’s emergency department at King George Hospital is to close overnight during winter.

Set to take effect from November 16, children requiring attention between 9pm and 9am will be told to go to Romford’s Queen’s Hospital instead.

Confirming the closure on Wednesday morning (November 4), BHRUT’s chief medical officer Dr Magda Smith described it as “a Covid measure for Covid times”.

Both Ilford MPs are clear that this decision must only reflect the current circumstances, rather than be a precursor to a permanent closure.

Ilford North’s Wes Streeting said: “Our local NHS trust is clear that this must only be a temporary measure and I will keep on fighting for our health services in Parliament to get the NHS the funding and support they need to keep us safe and well during this challenging time.”

His Labour colleague Sam Tarry, representing Ilford South, added: “For too long people across Ilford South have feared the downgrading of services at King George Hospital. I want to be absolutely crystal clear that, if the overnight closure of the children’s emergency department is anything more than a temporary measure, then I will lead a campaign for the reinstatement of full paediatric services at King George Hospital.”

The closure comes after the children’s inpatient ward at the Goodmayes hospital was closed earlier this year to look after patients with Covid-19.

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One of the reasons behind the latest decision is that it will help keep children safe as several paediatricians are shielding during the pandemic.

The other, which Mr Streeting has criticised, is that there are a number of unfilled staff vacancies at the hospital.

He said: “Years of Tory underfunding and a failure to address significant workforce challenges by the government is leaving local NHS services over-stretched, particularly during the pandemic.”

The trust said that it is committed to restoring the paediatric emergency department overnight as soon as it is safe to do so, with the hope that this will be by April 2021.

Members of Redbridge Council have spoken out regarding the decision to stop treating children’s emergencies overnight.

In a statement released yesterday (Friday November 6), Cllr Mark Santos, cabinet member for health, social care, mental health and the ageing, said: “We were extremely concerned and disappointed to hear about the temporary closure of the overnight paediatrics department at King George Hospital.

“We fully appreciate the enormous pressure the NHS is under now, but the loss of such a vital service, albeit temporarily, is of significant concern to us and the communities the hospital serves.

“Our priority as a council is to ensure people in Redbridge continue to have access to local, high-quality clinical care. We’ve held discussions with the trust this week and insisted on reassurance that the closure is a temporary measure, and that they remain committed to reopening the service as soon as possible.

“While we were satisfied with the assurances put forward, we will continue to monitor the situation and intervene further if necessary. The long-term closure of this facility is not an option that we’re willing to accept.”

The trust which runs the Ilford facility was criticised by the council’s health scrutiny committee who convened on Thursday night (November 5).

In response to concerns expressed, newly appointed CEO for the two hospitals Tony Chambers said: “I genuinely share your disappointment but we have had to do this because of the impact of the ongoing global pandemic.

“This is a closure is a temporary measure, we are absolutely committed to reopening the department during the night as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

Dr Smith explained they suffered with staff shortages even before Covid, which then forced a quarter of their consultant paediatricians to shield.

She said: “We are dependent on temporary doctors to support our service and that adds a fragility to the process.”

“I want to assure you that, if we are able to provide any stability in advance, we would not wait for April to make those changes.”

Dr Morgan Keane, consultant pediatrician for Queen’s Hospital, added it was “a day to day firefighting exercise to make sure both hospitals are safe”.

He said the trust recruits many doctors from overseas, including the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, and that getting visas is now more complicated due to Covid.

The trust has successfully recruited five paediatricians, although they will not be able to start work until early next year, and are committed to recruiting a further five.

Committee chair Cllr Neil Zammett (Lab, Goodmayes) said there was a “definite lack of confidence” at the council over the trust’s “commitment to providing” services in Redbridge.

He said: “The knee jerk reaction from the trust is, whenever things get difficult for doctors, our services get closed.

“We need to make sure we are not closing our services in Redbridge when other places are managing to keep them open.

“The pressure is on to retreat to (Queen’s Hospital in Romford) but I think it’s clear to everyone that Queen’s could not manage the acute sector and all those services on its own.”

However, he said the committee “have to accept” the commitment by the trust – Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) – to resume the service.

Cllr Suzanne Nolan (Con, South Woodford) worried the closure would cause Whipps Cross in Leytonstone to be “absolutely overwhelmed with families” not willing to travel to Romford.

She was told by Dr Smith that there are only “single numbers” of children currently attending the department and that the trust “will continue to monitor” numbers.

Cllr Hannah Chaudhry (Lab, Chadwell) replied: “It does not matter if one child attends or 500, every patient matters.

“If this department was open during the first wave, I do not understand why it cannot remain open.”

Cllr Jyotsna Islam (Lab, Aldborough) added: “It appears to be a norm that our health partners are closing sections of the hospital without giving us enough notice or prior discussion.”

The trust was similarly criticised in May, when it closed the inpatient children’s ward at King George Hospital in order to convert it into critical care for Covid patients.

Responding to the concern raised by Cllr Nolan, a spokesperson from the trust which runs Whipps Cross confirmed they were “absolutely fine for paediatric capacity”.

When questioned why they were not suffering similar issues to BHRUT, she said they were “further ahead” in the recruitment process and it had “taken them a good couple of years”.

Cllr Zammett said this suggested the NHS in Barking, Havering and Redbridge was “slow off the mark” in responding to the staffing problem.

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