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Temporary overnight changes at local urgent care centres as NHS prepares for a busy winter

Tuesday, 22 November, 2016
Temporary overnight changes at local urgent care centres as NHS prepares for a busy winter

Leaders at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are taking temporary but necessary steps to ensure that the skills of vital urgent and emergency care nursing staff are maximised during what is expected to be an extremely busy winter for the NHS.

From Thursday 1 December, the opening times of the trust’s three urgent care centres at Hexham, North Tyneside and Wansbeck general hospitals will change from 24 hours a day, to become 8am to midnight, seven days a week. 

This essential temporary measure is being taken as part of winter resilience planning across the NHS in Northumberland and North Tyneside and means that, highly-skilled nursing staff can be deployed where there is most demand on services from patients.

Since transforming emergency care and opening The Northumbria hospital in June 2015, activity overnight at the trust’s urgent care centres* has been minimal with, on average, less than ten overnight attendances a day across all three urgent care centres.  Between the hours of midnight and 8am, the trust has seen an average of:

·         two attendances at Hexham

·         four attendances at Wansbeck

·         four attendances at North Tyneside

The trust has also recorded a very high number of days (83) where there have been no overnight attendances at all between the hours of midnight and 8am at Hexham’s urgent care centre.  At North Tyneside there were 12 days with no overnight attendances and at Wansbeck there were 19 days with no overnight attendances.

In light of these extremely low numbers, the trust is working with its urgent care nursing staff to ensure their skills can be put to best use to meet demand across the trust. This will include supporting teams overnight at The Northumbria hospital in Cramlington, where very high numbers of seriously ill or injured people, particularly the frail and elderly, will need emergency hospital admission during winter.

Some nursing staff in the trust’s urgent care centres have already been rotating to The Northumbria hospital in Cramlington since the emergency care changes were made in June 2015 and rotas will now be adjusted for the next three months to ensure that vital resources are focused where they are most needed to help manage demand for services across the trust.

Northumbria Healthcare is holding meetings with staff and working closely with staff side representatives to ensure nurses affected by this temporary measure are redeployed appropriately given their individual personal circumstances and ability to travel.

The trust is keen to emphasise that this is a temporary measure only.  It is being taken as part of proactive winter planning to ensure operational resilience, that vital nursing staff are concentrated where they are most needed overnight and to ensure that patients across Northumberland and North Tyneside have access to the highest possible quality and safety of care.

All three urgent care centres will continue to be open from 8am until midnight seven days a week, with a medical presence also on site from 9am until 10pm seven days a week. 

Any patients in North Tyneside, Wansbeck and Hexham who need urgent help overnight when it is not a serious life threatening emergency, should call NHS 111 which is available 24/7.  Northern Doctors Urgent Care (contactable via NHS 111) will continue to use all three urgent care centres as their out of hours bases, should an urgent face-to-face GP consultation be required overnight.

Dr Jeremy Rushmer, executive medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “Like all parts of the NHS we are making appropriate preparations for winter so that we have the right people, in the right place to support patient care where we have the highest demand on services across the trust.  We know at this time of year that we will see many more emergency hospital admissions, which now take place at The Northumbria, and this is particularly amongst older people who are most vulnerable to the cold weather conditions and winter viruses which are circulating.

“The numbers of attends overnight at our urgent care centres has been very small since we made our emergency care changes over a year ago and we know that there are other safe out-of-hours arrangements available for patients, via NHS 111, should people in Hexham, North Tyneside or the Wansbeck areas need to speak to a medical professional during the night.

“I am keen to stress that this is a temporary measure to see us through the winter period and means we can maximise the skills of our nurses by putting them into practice where there is most demand – for example we generally see over 40 emergency admissions every single night at The Northumbria hospital.  As always, our staff have been very understanding and we are working with them to ensure they are redeployed appropriately with arrangements made with any member of staff who is unable to transfer to continue working on their existing hospital site. We greatly welcome our staff’s support as we all strive to deliver the very best quality of care for our patients this winter.”

Like all parts of the country, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has seen a huge increase in demand with around a 20 per cent rise in attendances over the past year as more people than ever before are using emergency services.

Local NHS leaders are anticipating even further demands on services and a busy and difficult winter ahead.  The temporary measures being taken as part of proactive winter resilience planning and have been supported by both NHS Northumberland CCG and NHS North Tyneside CCG.

Dr David Shovlin, a GP in Hexham and director for unplanned care at NHS Northumberland CCG said: “We welcome these proactive short-term measures being taken by the trust which will ensure our whole system across Northumberland is best geared up to meet demand from patients this winter.  This is always an extremely busy time of year for all NHS services and I would urge people to look after themselves well and really think wisely about how they use services.”

Dr John Matthews, a GP in Wallsend and clinical chair at NHS North Tyneside CCG said: “The trust is taking very sensible steps – albeit as an interim measure – so that nursing staff can be deployed where their skills will be needed most this winter.  It is important that everyone living in North Tyneside takes responsibility for using their NHS services wisely this winter – a time when we know more people, particularly the frail elderly need emergency hospital care.  It is vital that we all play a part in keeping these services free for those who need them most.”