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‘Catastrophic consequences’: Retired top Huntly doctor on overnight closure of Minor Injury Unit, as petition signed by thousands


By Lewis McBlane

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CLOSING Huntly’s Minor Injury Unit (MIU) overnight will lead to “catastrophic consequences”, according to a retired top doctor.

Retired Huntly doctor David Easton criticised the decision to shut the MIU at night.
Retired Huntly doctor David Easton criticised the decision to shut the MIU at night.

Dr David Easton was a Huntly GP for 28 years and, as medical director of the Jubilee Hospital, was in charge of the casualty unit.

The MIU is currently open 24 hours a day but, from July 1, the unit will close between 7pm and 7am under plans agreed in March.

A Friends of Jubilee Hospital petition opposing the plans was signed by more than 3000 people, and was handed to health bosses at a public meeting at the Stewarts Hall last Monday.

Though representatives from Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership (AHSCP) accepted the petition, Dr Easton said, campaigners were told there was no legal mechanism that entitled them to a response.

A spokesperson for the Aberdeenshire HSCP said: “Chief officer for the AHSCP, Pam Milliken, accepted and acknowledged the petition from the Friends of Jubilee.

“Analysing the data we can see that there is very low usage of the Minor Injury Service at Jubilee Hospital and in fact there were 17 nights without any minor injury presentations.

Friends of Jubilee Hospital, along with Dr David Easton (right), at a public meeting about the overnight closure of Huntly's MIU.Picture: David Black
Friends of Jubilee Hospital, along with Dr David Easton (right), at a public meeting about the overnight closure of Huntly's MIU.Picture: David Black

“There is no suggestion in the data that there will be an impact on any of the wider emergency or urgent care services in Grampian.”

Dr Easton said: “I’m disappointed — extremely disappointed — that there wasn’t more consideration of the actual impact posed by the closure.

“If people no longer have the capacity to go to their MIU overnight, it will have a significant, potentially catastrophic, impact.

“There is no doubt, I feel, that in a short amount of time there will be catastrophic consequences.

“I’m saying this to try and let the public have a voice, because they haven’t had a voice.

“I will probably get shouted at and spurned by the health side, but I have to put my hands up and say that this is what I believe.”

Fiona Murray, chairperson of Friends of Huntly Jubilee Hospital said: “What occurred in the Stewart’s Hall on Monday evening was shameful.

“There was absolutely no consultation with the Huntly and District community; it seemed to be a fait accompli and quite demoralising.

“However, having heard the contributions from the people who came forward to describe their experiences, I feel that we must push forward our campaign to reverse the decision to reduce the MIU overnight hours and it is vital to stand up for our rural hospitals and hardworking staff in those units.”

The retired GP said the overnight MIU closure could mean that people who would have attended the unit could face long journeys to Accident and Emergency services in Aberdeen or Elgin.

He rejected AHSCP’s argument that the changes will not impact other services.

He said: “There will inevitably be an increase in the number of calls that require an ambulance, because you are sending more people to secondary departments.

“It can’t not impact on it — there is just no way it won’t impact.

“They are already unable to keep up at A&E and the staff themselves are already under extreme pressure.

“I am not personally aware of anybody that has died as a result, but I have very little doubt that — if that hasn’t already happened — people will have been impacted negatively.”

When Dr Easton has asked member of the public about the overnight closure, he said: “Nobody thought it was a good idea.

“The community is extremely angry.”

The Minor Injury Unit at Huntly's Jubilee Hospital is set to be scrapped. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
The Minor Injury Unit at Huntly's Jubilee Hospital is set to be scrapped. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

The only people who did not sign the Friends of Jubilee petition, he said, were healthcare staff who were opposed to the closure but felt unable to speak out, as they are “scared of being targeted by their employer”.

GMED, the out-of-hours GP service operating from the Jubilee Hospital and dealing with more serious issues, could also be in the firing line according to Dr Easton.

Three doctors have told him, he claimed, that they would not work within GMED without the support of MIU nurses.

He added that he could “wholeheartedly understand” why the lack of backup would stop doctors being out-of-hours GPs.

The AHSCP, he claimed, have refused to confirm or deny whether the service will be closed.

On average, patient figures show, more than double the number of patients are seen by GMED than the MIU.

However, in total, more than 80 per cent of out-of-hours appointments each month went unutilised.

Along with Huntly’s MIU, Fraserburgh and Peterhead’s units are also set to close overnight under the new scheme.

The decision, made as part of a cost-cutting budget, will save £700,000 this year and £1 million in following years.

Dr Easton said “it’s not a huge amount, in the scheme of things” and that much larger sums could potentially be cut from prescribing costs.

He said he was shocked by the “staggering amount of money” spent on certain parts of healthcare, including prescribing, in recent budgets.

The retired GP also pushed for more research into whether increasingly-common telephone consultations are causing doctors to prescribe more medication.


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