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25 August 2016, 12:21
A&E services at a scandal-hit hospital have been suspended for under-18s because senior clinicians have advised that they are not safe.
University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust said it acted on Thursday because of a lack of "professionally trained and experienced staff'' at Stafford's County Hospital, which used to be called Stafford Hospital.
The trust said children should not be taken to County Hospital as walk-in patients, adding that those with minor illnesses and injuries should use primary care services such as their GP or community pharmacists.
It added: "Families who believe their children need emergency (A&E) attention should dial 999 for an ambulance. Ambulances will always take children to the most appropriate hospital to treat their condition.''
Acting Medical Director John Oxtoby spoke to Heart about the closure:
Liz Rix, chief nurse and acting deputy chief executive, said: "I fully appreciate the impact these temporary changes will have on families in Stafford and the surrounding area, and understand that people will be very concerned about this news.
"However, we cannot and will not continue to deliver services without the confidence that those services are safe.
"I want to thank my fellow clinical colleagues for reviewing the situation and for their advice, which has led to us taking this difficult short-term decision.
"This allows us the space to examine future options for safe children's services at County Hospital with input from our staff, regulators and partners.''
Dr Ann Marie Morris, clinical director and emergency medicine consultant, said: "I want to reassure parents that we have taken this decision in the best interests of children.
"Whilst it is regrettable that some children may have to travel further for care, our first priority has to be providing a safe clinical service.
"People view the Children's Emergency Centre as a safety net, but this is only the case when the right number of professionally trained, experienced staff are in place at all times.
"This is not currently the case, and, as we cannot resolve this in the short term, the only responsible course of action we can take is to suspend the service.''
Around 30 children a day are seen at the A&E, and local commissioners and Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy have asked the trust to produce a detailed plan and a timescale for the next steps "as a matter of urgency''.
The Stafford Hospital scandal involved poor care and high mortality rates among patients in the late 2000s.
It was renamed County Hospital after a #6 million public inquiry into the scandal, which concluded that hundreds of patients died after receiving poor care.
The hospital is not the only to be hit by A&E staff shortfalls in recent months.
Earlier this month, Grantham and District Hospital announced it was to temporarily close its doors at night because of a shortage of emergency doctors.
In April, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was forced to temporarily downgrade Chorley and South Ribble Hospital to an urgent care unit because it did not have enough doctors.
At the time the hospital said that continuing to provide a service without enough doctors would be "negligent'' and put patients at "unacceptable risk''.
In June, North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust also conceded that it was "facing a number of issues'' in the A&E department, "particularly around medical staffing''.
Last month, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that a gap between supply and demand for emergency doctors was leading to a "real crisis''.
Stafford Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy said he is "deeply disappointed'' by the suspension and is pushing for the matter to be ``resolved urgently''.
"It is a vital part of our local NHS, serving some 30 of my younger constituents every day,'' he added.
"The safety of patients is paramount and so I understand the trust's decision to suspend the service.
"But the trust also has a clear responsibility to restore this essential service as soon as is safely possible.''