Hospital bosses said they will continue to run paediatric services at short-staffed Boston Pilgrim Hospital beyond August “as long as safety is maintained.”
They will however also plan for a potential move of paediatric and obstetrics (childbirth and midwifery) services to Lincoln County Hospital by September 1 if safety levels cannot be maintained.
A United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust board meeting on Friday, May 25 concluded with members agreeing to continue to run the current paediatric services beyond August 1.
But the board will in the meantime develop a contingency plan to move services if required.
ULHT said it has had a long-standing shortage of children’s doctors and nurses and has carried out extensive worldwide recruitment, which is ongoing and includes working with agencies and using locus staff to fill shifts.
For all of Pilgrim’s children’s and maternity services to run 24/7, there should be eight middle grade paediatric doctors at the hospital.
Health bosses added, with effect from August 1 2018, they expect there will be only one substantive middle grade doctor available.
Dr Neill Hepburn, Medical Director said: “I want to reassure people we are doing everything we can to recruit doctors and nurses to keep services running at Pilgrim.
“This is a difficult time for our staff and the public. We recognise that the potential loss of services causes worry and concerns to Lincolnshire people and we appreciate local services are important to the community and the hospital.
“The staffing situation is unpredictable and constantly changing and we are reliant on agency doctors and nurses with makes it difficult to plan rotas. Just last week we announced we had recruited four longer term locum middle grade doctors but already one has left to work in another country. This is the reality of the volatile paediatric labour market in the UK.
“The supply of junior doctors from August is also now fragile so the Board has charged the Trust Chair and Chief Executive to raise this at the highest levels as soon as possible to ensure sufficient junior doctors are made available.
“With this in mind, we will start to prepare for the worst case scenario to change services at Pilgrim – this will be in parallel of working to maintain services. This doesn’t mean that services will close, it means we will be prepared if the staffing shortage worsens and safety of services becomes precarious.
“If we don’t have the staff at Pilgrim, the safest option for the sick children of Lincolnshire will be to have one safely staffed children’s unit at Lincoln rather than having two poorly staffed services open.”
Board heard that the East Midlands Clinical Senate review on safety of four of the potential temporary options which was commissioned by NHS Improvement and NHS England will not now go ahead.
ULHT has asked the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to review services and offer their national expertise on best practice and safety in the longer term. This will start in June.