Health bosses apologise over communication of Royal Free kids A&E closures

PUBLISHED: 18:45 18 November 2020 | UPDATED: 14:12 20 November 2020

The Royal Free in Hampstead and the Whittington Hospital in Archway. Pictures: PA

The Royal Free in Hampstead and the Whittington Hospital in Archway. Pictures: PA


“We were absolutely furious.”

Kate Slemeck said bosses were keeping a firm eye on how hospital changes at the Royal Free for children were going. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA WireKate Slemeck said bosses were keeping a firm eye on how hospital changes at the Royal Free for children were going. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Angry councillors hit out at North Central London (NCL) CCG over the “extraordinary” lack of communication around the temporary closure of children’s A&E at the Royal Free.

The services were shifted to the Whittington Hospital in late September, as part of planning for the Covid-19 second wave across north London.

Health bosses from the Royal Free, the Whittington and NCL said “lessons had been learned” and accepted communication was “late in the day”, but sought to reassure councillors that the impact of the changes on patients was being monitored in real time.

READ MORE: Royal Free children’s A&E to close on September 25

Kate Slemeck. Picture: Royal FreeKate Slemeck. Picture: Royal Free

The service was shuttered and moved to the Whittington Hospital as part of wide-ranging changes in response the pandemic.

Camden’s health lead, Cllr Pat Callaghan, said she and her counterparts in four neighbouring north London boroughs had been shocked by the lack of communication from North Central London CCG – which played a key role in making it.

The issue was referred to the town hall’s health and adult social care scrutiny committee by watchdog Healthwatch Camden.

Cllr Callaghan said: “We were furious when we heard this, because of the non-consultation. Parents didn’t know, we didn’t know – and I think we should have been some of the first to know.”

Cllr Pat Callaghan. Picture: Camden CouncilCllr Pat Callaghan. Picture: Camden Council

Cllr Maria Higson (Con, Hampstead Town) added: “This is extraordinary – in the way this has been communicated not only to the public but also as we understand it to the staff.”

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MPs and senior consultants at the Royal Free are among those to have complained to this newspaper about the speed of the changes and concerns that they could be made permanent.

Will Huxter, director of strategy at the CCG, said: “We absolutely acknowledge there’s a lot we need to learn from about how we’ve done this.

“Our motivation has been to make sure that we are able to offer safe and resilient services for children - both emergency and planned care - at a very difficult time.”

Kate Slemeck and Siobhan Harrington, chief execs at the Royal Free and the Whittington respectively, echoed this.

Ms Slemeck said the decisions had been made as medics found few children came into hospital during the initial phase of the pandemic, while Ms Harrington said there was a “very short window” for the hospitals to carry out the changes.

In response to questions from councillors, Ms Harrington added: “We are keeping a real-time grip on how the services are running, the numbers being seen, and how we manage this very, very closely.”

The issue was referred to the committee by the Healthwatch Camden watchdog. Its director Matthew Parris said: “A&E services for children and young people at the Royal Free were moved and closed down there at short notice. And initially there was very little communication about the changes.

“This concerned us, particularly because of the level of awareness of the change. We conducted some informal polling and found that only around one in 10 people knew that the service was no longer available at the Royal Free.”

Mr Parris told the committee his team would be looking to conduct further research about awareness of the changes in the coming months.

Ms Harrington and Ms Slemeck also confirmed the changes would be carefully evaluated, and assured councillors that they and the public would be kept better informed.

Mr Huxter confirmed any permanent changes would be “subject to a full public consultation”

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