The accident and emergency department at Grantham Hospital will be closed from 6.30pm until 9am from next week, for at least three months.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has said that the temporary reduction in opening hours at Grantham will commence from Wednesday, August 17 and will help increase the number of doctors at its A&E departments in Lincoln and Boston.
As previously reported, the trust said that it does not have enough doctors to fill shifts in three departments 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and may put patients at risk if it does not act now.
At present, the trust is also unable to recruit locums, so consultant doctors have filled the gaps by doing extra shifts.
After 6.30pm, the trust says it has put services in place with the ambulance service, the out of hours service and emergency assessment unit to maximise the number of patients who can still be treated at Grantham Hospital.
However, patients will not be able to walk in to the out of hours service without an appointment accessed via NHS 111.
In a real emergency, people should call 999.
ULHT has said that it was received the backing of all other local NHS trusts in making the decision.
Dr Suneil Kapadia, medical director at ULHT, admitted that this decision would not be a popular one with members of the public, but insisted it was necessary for patient safety.
He said: “Our doctors have agreed to support our plans in the best interests of patients and work shifts in Lincoln and Pilgrim A&Es.
“This hasn’t been easy on the staff at Grantham and we are very grateful for their help.
“We haven’t made this decision lightly, but we’ve made it for the right reasons – to maintain patient safety in all three A&Es.
“We know this will be an unpopular decision but reducing the opening hours of Grantham A&E is the safest option for Lincolnshire. Despite significant actions taken by the trust, we don’t have enough doctors to safely staff all three of our A&Es 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We will be working hard to recruit more doctors over the next few weeks and months, and continue to pay premium rates to attract doctors to the county. ULHT are committed to fully reopening A&E as soon as we have enough doctors. But we won’t compromise on safety to deliver convenient services
“Currently patients with life threatening conditions and children are sent by ambulance to Lincoln, Pilgrim or Nottingham University Hospitals.
“On average we expect, between 6:30pm and 9am, 25 patients to attend alternative services. Most of these will be discharged back to their GP with little or no treatment required. We also expect that three patients will need to be transferred to alternative A&Es by ambulance.”
Dr Vindi Bhandal, GP and Chair of South West Lincolnshire CCG, added: “Once the department is closed, and to reassure our patients, the out of hours service will take over and provide a service for emergency care.
“Clearly we all recognise that there are times when attending A&E is the right course of action, however we need to educate our patients not to think of A&E first but rather to make use of the wide range of alternatives that are available including GP practices during working hours, minor injuries units, urgent care centres, pharmacies and the NHS 111 service.”