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Royal Free children’s closures: A&E to shut on September 25, amid criticism of ‘very little communication’ from NHS bosses

PUBLISHED: 09:27 17 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:27 17 September 2020

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

PA Archive/PA Images

Children’s A&E at the Royal Free will temporarily close on September 25, while watchdog Healthwatch Camden has referred the wide-ranging reconfiguration of hospital services to the borough’s health overview and scrutiny committee.

The Whittington Hospital turned blue for the NHS' 72nd birthday. Picture: Whittington HealthThe Whittington Hospital turned blue for the NHS' 72nd birthday. Picture: Whittington Health

In response to questions from the Ham&High, North London Partners (NLP) – the “sustainability and transformation partnership” which has made the decisions – has outlined how capacity will increase at the Whittington Hospital to compensate for the changes – which will also see children’s inpatient services shut “throughout the winter” as part of plans to prepare in case of a “second wave” of coronavirus.

The Archway hospital will have 16 spaces in its children’s A&E – up from 9 – and 45 children’s inpatient beds – up from 15.

The 45 beds include “paediatric assessment, ambulatory care, high dependency and mental health beds”.

The spokesperson also said the Royal Free School will not operate during this time – as inpatient units will be closed – but patients in the hospital’s eating disorder service will “continue to receive educational provision”.

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA WireA view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

READ MORE: Royal Free paediatric closures: Tulip Siddiq seeks ‘reassurance’ over A&E’s long-term future

READ MORE: Royal Free children’s service to temporarily close as part of Covid-19 second wave plan

The children’s emergency department will close on September 25, but dates for the closures of inpatient units remain unclear. Health bosses said a “robust plan” is in place to ensure patient safety.

Concerns have been raised both at the hospital and externally about “confusing” changes and shortcomings in communicating them to members of the public.

Holborn and St Pancras MP, and Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer has written to NLP raising concerns about the local NHS’ communication of these changes. Last week, his colleague Tulip Siddiq (Lab, Hampstead and Kilburn) said she has asked for “reassurance” over the children’s A&E’s long-term future.

The Whittington Hospital turned blue for the NHS' 72nd birthday. Picture: Whittington HealthThe Whittington Hospital turned blue for the NHS' 72nd birthday. Picture: Whittington Health

Director of Healthwatch Camden Matthew Parris said his organisation has heard from a number of worried parents, including one parent who said the changes “worry me greatly” and another who described it as “terrible news”.

He said others have been concerned as to whether the changes would indeed be temporary.

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He added: “This is a significant change to emergency services for some of our sickest children. More clarity and reassurance are needed on the concerns raised by local people, for example, what will happen if a parent attends Royal Free with their child?

“The timing and communication of the change could be critical, and we want to work with the NHS to ensure it gets this right. The intention was for these changes to take effect within the next fortnight and, so far, there has been very little communication about the changes.”

Cllr Angela Mason, Camden’s children’s chief, said that while she understands the need for short-term changes, she is “concerned about the lack of consultation”.

She added: “I am particularly concerned at the potential impact on families in Camden of having to go the Whittington Hospital instead of their usual hospital.”

She said she has asked for assurances that any children taken to the Royal Free’s A&E – or UCLH’s A&E, which also remains closed – would be “seen by staff with children’s expertise”.

Cllr Mason called for the changes to be communicated widely, and for the NHS to make sure “sufficient staffing and financial resources” are in place and to commit to “widely consulting” should local health bosses look to make changes permanent.

The changes were announced as part of what NLP called “a clinically-led review of children and young people’s services”.

NLP said “clinical and operational groups” took part in putting together the recommendations, which were agreed by the North Central London Clinical Advisory Group, the London Clinical Advisory Group and the a body called North Central London System Gold.

These groups do not meet in public and the NLP spokesperson said it does “not routinely publish the minutes and agendas of these meetings”.

Addressing concerns about communication and consultation, the spokesperson said: “We are working with partners and local community and voluntary sector organisations to communicate these changes to stakeholders and local residents, particularly parents and families across north central London and neighbouring boroughs.”

They said the NLP is working with council children’s services departments to make sure vulnerable families are informed.

The temporary changes will be evaluated “on an ongoing basis”, the spokesperson added, with “further details” about the timescale for the changes “available in the coming weeks”.


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