Is NHS provision for children in crisis?
On the same day that an independent review into the provision of children’s cardiac services in Bristol was published, the Charlie Chaplin Children’s ward at Ealing Hospital has closed, and the hospital’s accident and emergency department will no longer accept children.
The decision was taken by the Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group despite protests by local people, and a petition against the closures which amassed over £100,000 signatures.
The North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups on its website advises that services have changed in order to improve children’s care.
They state “On 30 June the children’s ward at Ealing Hospital closed and ambulances will no longer take children to Ealing’s accident and emergency (A&E) department. Ambulances will take children to a hospital with a children’s A&E. This will be either: West Middlesex, Hillingdon, Northwick Park, Chelsea and Westminster, or St Mary’s hospitals depending on the child’s needs”
Opponents to the closure have pointed out that the majority of children who are taken to A & E are taken there by their families and, as such, the changes will inevitably lead to delays in treatment as parents have to travel further.
My concern as a solicitor who acts for children who have been the victims of medical negligence is that these closures at Ealing Hospital will put patient safety at risk, as delays in accessing emergency care can have serious consequences. Parallels must surely be drawn with the crisis which has unfolded in recent days at another London A & E department at the North Middlesex Hospital. There, the closure of the A & E department at nearby Chase Farm Hospital is thought to have contributed to a significant strain on resources. The unit has been threatened with closure on safety grounds and has been issued with a warning from the Quality Care Commission.
Meanwhile, the Bristol Review found that staff and skills shortages put children’s lives at risk. The report made a total of 32 recommendations and called for a nationwide review of paediatric intensive care services by NHS England, on the basis that they have capacity problems. Only time will tell if today’s closures in Ealing will lead to similar capacity problems in paediatric emergency care in the area.