Threat to hospital care for sick children

SICK children needing long-term medical care could be forced away from their local hospital under new plans currently being discussed by health chiefs.

Rebecca Lefort

SICK children needing long-term medical care could be forced away from their local hospital under new plans currently being discussed by health chiefs.

Bosses at West Suffolk Hospital have admitted they might have to move sick youngsters - just 24 hours after they are admitted - to larger hospitals miles away, claiming they have been hit by a shortage in paediatric services.

The major overhaul could force anxious parents to travel more than 50 miles further to see their young loved ones and has raised fears about the future of the Bury St Edmunds hospital.

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Community leaders last night reacted with horror over the plans while even hospital bosses admitted they were not “ideal”.

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said: “This is extremely regrettable and I am absolutely astonished that this is being discussed.

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“Going to Addenbrooke's or Ipswich hospitals would be hugely inconvenient and it would obviously be very difficult for parents to visit continuously - which just adds to the distress of hospitalisation.

“The services provided by West Suffolk Hospital should be enhanced or increased and not cut - so this is totally unwelcome news.”

The plans have come about after hospital chiefs admitted they were struggling to recruit enough specialist doctors to provide the intensive care needed.

Jan Bloomfield, director of workforce and communications at the hospital, said there was a national shortage of “middle grade paediatric doctors”.

But Mr Spring said: “I am not aware of this national shortage and in fact the Government keeps telling us how many more doctors we now have, but where are they all?”

The MP also admitted he had some personal experience of the potential problems involved adding: “When a child is unwell and needs to go to hospital - something I have experienced as a parent - there is absolutely nothing more distressing and then having to take them a longer distance away. This will only add to the stress of the situation.”

Ms Bloomfield said: “I can't say that the current situation is ideal. What we have done is look at how we can staff our paediatric services for the future and how we can increase the input of nursing staff in order that the demand for doctors is less.

“The changes are being driven by staffing but the model of care is following best practice elsewhere.”

The changes planned by West Suffolk Hospital would see a new children's assessment centre created within the next few years.

It is hoped that the new model - with nurses providing some care instead of doctors - will reduce the pressure on West Suffolk Hospital's paediatric services.

Between 2006 and 2008 the number of children admitted to West Suffolk's children's ward has jumped by more than 25%, but the average length of stay has fallen, with many children staying less than 24 hours.

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