Junior doctors join Accident & Emergency rebellion

'An overworked, under-experienced team, working in limited physical space, is not a recipe for safe or effective care'

Thursday, 15th October 2020 — By Tom Foot

Whittington Hospital

The Whittington Hospital has been asked to handle all child emergencies 

JUNIOR doctors at the Whittington have written to its management expressing “deep unease” at a major overhaul of hospitals’ children’s A&E services.

A letter sent this week warned that a “critical shortage” of nursing staff and beds had put patient safety “at risk”. NHS chiefs have temporarily shut down paediatric emergency units at the Royal Free and University College Hospital.

Child patients are instead being taken to an expanded unit at the Whittington as part of NHS chiefs’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the letter said there was a “risk to patient safety”, a “critical shortage of paediatric nurses” and not enough beds or cubicle space to cope with the new demand.

It added: “As front-line workers, it has already been a gruelling year responding to Covid-19: many of us have faced redeployments, cancelled time off, illness and a multitude of other personal challenges. These latest changes will further erode our morale and bring a significant risk of burnout.”

The letter said that nationally reorganisations of hospital services had already led to “excess morbidity and mortality amongst children”, adding: “An overworked, under-experienced team, working in limited physical space, is not a recipe for safe or effective care. We feel these changes are being rapidly forced through without adequate planning, oversight or consultation.”

Children arriving at the Royal Free and UCH are now being redirected to the Whittington in Highgate.

Shirley Franklin, from Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “We under­stand there is a requirement for flexibility from staff, but equally there is a need for management to be open about the issues. Manage­ment is telling us one thing and people in the hospital are saying another. These people need to take it to their unions. The central problem is the lack of funding coming from central government.”

Managers cannot guarantee the changes will be reversed but stressed there will be consultation about any plan to make the switch permanent. A statement signed by medical directors of the three hospitals said: “We absolutely recognise how unsettling these changes may be for patients and their families, especially when they have been treated by a particular hospital for a long time.”

A North London Partners spokesman said: “Our staff are our most valuable asset. We met with junior doctors last week to discuss their concerns in detail and we were able to address many of these concerns. We welcome people asking questions and raising concerns, and we take them very seriously.”

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