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16 January 2012, 12:15
Campaigners are worried lives could be put at risk by the night-time closure of the A&E department at the QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City.
Changes brought in on Monday 16 January 2012 mean the Accident and Emergency department will now only be open between 8am and 8pm daily. Overnight only minor injuries will be treated.
People with serious or life-threatening conditions are being asked to go to the A&E department at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage instead, or call 999 for an ambulance to take them to the nearest appropriate hospital, which will normally be the Lister.
People who are taken to the QEII overnight who have or develop a serious condition will be stabilised before being taken to the Lister.
Bosses say children who develop serious or life-threatning problems, or any children aged under 12 months who need to go to hospital, should go to the nearest specialist children's emergency department - normally the Lister.
The Welwyn and Hatfield Keep NHS Public campaign are worried forcing people who are seriously ill to travel an extra 14 miles to the Lister at Stevenage could put lives at risk. NHS bosses insist the changes are about making things better for patients.
East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust medical director James Quinn said: "We're now at the halfway stage in transforming, through the investment of around £150m, the Lister into the main hospital for emergency and inpatient services for all of east and north Hertfordshire, as well as parts of Bedfordshire.
"Although better for patients in terms of improved clinical outcomes, we also knew that these changes would have implications for the QEII's A&E services. With fewer surgeons and other specialist doctors based at the hospital, especially overnight, this presented us with a clinical risk that needed to be addressed in advance of the 'Local A&E' service that the Primary Care Trust will develop at the QEII in 2014.
"This is why we have reorganised our services, so the Trust's main emergency department is based at the Lister."
A big publicity campaign has started to communicate the changes to people in the QEII and Lister hospitals' catchment areas.