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'Deaths inevitable' if hospital unit hours are cut

By Kyle Ritchie

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Concerns have been raised about the possible overnight closure of the casualty department at Chalmers Hospital in Banff.

A public consultation was held in the town's Harvest Centre last week outlining proposals for the minor injury unit (MIU) in the medical facility.

It is part of an Aberdeenshire-wide review of MIUs, which is being carried out by Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership.

Peter Johnston of the Friends of Chalmers Hospital in Banff.
Peter Johnston of the Friends of Chalmers Hospital in Banff.

Four options were presented to the public keep the MIU as it is; complete closure; operating between 8am and 6pm each day; or operating from 8am to late in the evening, with the clsoing time to be agreed with the GMED service and ambulances.

The partnership outlined that its preferred option was reducing the hours to 8am and 6pm.

The hospital was the focus of a multi-million pound modernisation project, which was opened by HRH The Princess Royal in 2012.

Friends of Chalmers Hospital is a registered charity that supports the medical facility and donates medical and other equipment supplementing the services of NHS Grampian.

Peter Johnston from the group said: "Members of Friends of Chalmers Hospital financially and in other ways, are deeply concerned that the existing casualty unit, which also acts as a minor injuries unit (MIU), may be downgraded to a daytime MIU.

"Banff is the population centre furthest away from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Banff has only one ambulance. If that ambulance takes a patient to Aberdeen, it is routinely directed to places even further away from Banff than Aberdeen, rather than being allowed to return to Banff.

"The present 24/7 unit, with specialist nursing staff, enables critically ill patients or those with life threatening injuries to be stabilised before transfer to ARI or another central hospital, if necessary by helicopter from the helipad on Battery Green. Lives have been saved in this way.

"Without this facility, unnecessary deaths are inevitable. It is well known that early intervention can save lives. Without a 24/7 casualty facility, critically ill patients are likely to have a significant wait for an ambulance, followed by the trauma of a long journey of at least an hour to the nearest hospital.

"The anticipated cost savings, principally salary savings for night duty staff, do not justify putting lives in danger."

Banff and District councillor Glen Reynolds said it was good to see so many people engaging with the issue, with hundreds attending the consultation.

He added: "It appears that there is a serious possibility that the facility at Chalmers Hospital is being planned for closure overnight.

"Many residents have contacted me who are unhappy about this despite the data which indicates that overnight attendance is very low.

"I have concerns too, that the public need reassurance in terms of the hours and the potential downgrading of what is effectively a casualty unit to a minor injuries units and what implications that has for the nature and care of certain injuries.

"Minor injuries are not quite as minor as you may think and people need reassurance as to partnership work with the ambulance service.

"It is good news that there is not to be a closure of Chalmers but the implications need to be better explained in terms of what remains and through the night alternative arrangements."

The findings and results from the consultation will now be assessed.

An Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership spokeswoman said: "Following these events a paper setting out the findings of the review and recommendations on the future operating models for five of the units will be presented to the integration joint board for final consideration."

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