Starmer: ‘I want meeting about A&E closures’
All parents will be directed to take their children to the Whittington
17 September, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer
LABOUR Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded a meeting with NHS chiefs next week over proposals to keep the children’s accident and emergency departments closed at University College and Royal Free hospitals.
The Holborn and St Pancras MP said he had been contacted by “several constituents about the changes” after details of the plans were revealed in the New Journal last month.
He has warned North London Partners – an unelected authority tasked with making £1billion in NHS efficiencies across north London by 2022 – that its plans appear to be taken behind closed doors and not enough information has been made available to the public.
Unrest is brewing after measures introduced during the height of the coronavirus crisis – closing the children’s A&E departments and sending patients to the Whittington instead – were mapped out to continue for the rest of the year.
Some senior staff at the UCLH fear these emergency changes agreed as part of the Covid-19 fightback will be made permanent despite assurances they are currently temporary.
Mr Starmer said: “I have been in contact with North London Partners about these proposals and I am due to meet with them next week to discuss them in more detail. I recognise that Covid-19 has meant difficult clinical decisions about how to ensure children and young adults can be treated safely over the coming months.”
He added: “I have concerns about how these changes have been communicated and I urge North London Partners to do more to keep parents informed to avoid any unnecessary confusion and distress.”
The New Journal’s bombshell report told how insiders at UCLH say the plan is widely opposed by many senior doctors and nurses in the emergency department and also some figures at board level.
Medics said they had gone along with an order to shut children’s emergency services during the peak of the Covid emergency in April – but had not expected it to continue past the summer.
Throughout August, dozens of children – on average eight each day – have been turned away from UCLH and rerouted to the Whittington in Archway.
The NHS watchdog Healthwatch Camden said there should be a consultation on what it described as “significant change to emergency services for some of our sickest children”. Both the UCLH and Royal Free children’s A&E have been recently refurbished. The NLP insists its changes are still temporary and are required to cope with a possible second wave of Covid-19 in the winter.
Responding to concerns raised by Mr Starmer’s office, NLP’s chairman Mike Cooke said: “Bearing in mind the relatively close geographic proximity of the Whittington Hospital, The Royal Free Hampstead site, UCLH and GOSH [Great Ormond Street Hospital], we believe that this provides the best approach to delivering safe and resilient services for children for the coming winter.”
UCLH and the Free have not commented, but the NLP said: “To make sure we can continue to provide the best care possible throughout the winter and are prepared for a potential second surge in Covid-19 cases, a clinically led review of children and young people’s services has been taking place to ensure they are safe, resilient and best meet the needs of children and young people.”