NHS bosses insist a town’s minor injuries unit will eventually reopen – after fears were raised that its temporary closure could become permanent.
The minor injuries unit (MIU) at Leek Moorlands Hospital has been closed since March due to Covid-related staffing shortages, and it is due to remain shut over the winter.
Patients have been told to instead use the walk-in centre at Burslem’s Haywood Hospital – 10 miles away from Leek – or alternative services such as NHS 111.
Managers at Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Leek Moorlands, were grilled on the issue by the health scrutiny committee at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.
They said that the closure was temporary, and was due to staffing issues rather than saving money.
But committee members said residents in the Moorlands had a right to be sceptical about this, after health services in the district had been ‘denuded’ in recent years.
They also pointed out that the advice to use the Haywood walk-in centre contradicted coronavirus guidance around travelling.
Leek North councillor Charlotte Atkins said: “It worries me when you talk about the temporary closure of the MIU. Of course, those people with slightly longer memories will remember that the temporary closure of our community hospital beds was also temporary, and was going to continue to be temporary, and then – guess what – they became permanent. So there is some scepticism around that.
“We’ve been told that we musn’t travel unnecessarily. That is why people don’t want to travel from Leek. It’s easy for you to jump in your cars. It’s not so easy if you have to get two buses and a 20 minute walk, if you’re injured.”
MPFT’s Staffordshire managing director Jennie Collier insisted that it was ‘absolutely a temporary decision’ to close the MIU.
She told the committee that while she sympathised with Moorlands residents facing transport problems, it was not currently possible to run a safe service, due to the staffing issues.
Ms Collier said: “The Covid numbers are increasing significantly and we do have a large number of staff who are impacted and are either absent or isolating due to Covid. Therefore we have taken the decision that through winter we think it’s very unlikely that we will be able to reopen the minor injuries unit. I just want to manage expectations around that, given the pressures that we’ve got across the services.”
“This is about maintaining safe services. The last thing we’d want is to have something running at Leek where the staffing is fragile and we can’t guarantee the safety of that service.”
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Leek Moorlands is due to undergo a £15 million transformation into an ‘integrated care hub’ as part of a wider revamp of local health services in Staffordshire.
MPFT chief executive Neil Carr told the committee that the planned work at Leek would be prioritised over other community hospitals, and that managers wanted the hub to include a walk-in facility.
He said: “We’ve had very positive discussions with the region and the NHS at a national level to release the first amount of capital for all of the detailed planning work, including the redevelopment of Leek. Leek will be given an absolute priority.
“My hope is the full business case will be presented and approved by the department of health during 2021, and we will actually see work commence in 2022.
“We would like to see some sort of comprehensive service based in Leek which will include some form of walk-in facility.”
But committee members were still unhappy that Moorlands residents were currently receiving a lesser service from the local NHS, and they did not expect things to much improve in the new year.
Councillor Lyn Swindlehurst said: “We have an elderly resident who recently fell in Leek, resulting in broken glasses and profuse bleeding from a head wound. It was raining, the person was cold. This individual was confused, shocked and frightened and forced to consider what actions to take in that situation – does she phone 111, the GP, 999? Whatever action she takes, that patient has to wait their turn, wait for an ambulance to come to Leek, and then to the Haywood, or given a GP appointment the next day.
“Nine months ago that patient would have been taken five minutes up the road to the MIU.
“This is a potential situation for around 1,000 patients a month. Their only issue is that they live in Leek and the surrounding areas.”