EMERGENCY surgery for cases such as appendicitis or bowel and gallbladder problems is being suspended at the Horton General Hospital from tomorrow (Friday).
In a move that has shocked staff and campaigners by its speed, the Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUH) hastily told Horton staff and the community partnership network of stakeholders in confidential meetings yesterday (Wednesday) morning. Unions have questioned the immediate suspension of emergency abdominal surgery without public consultation, which is required for major service changes at hospitals.
But the trust says it has been forced into the move because of an ‘unexpected’ loss of surgeons on emergency rotas which cannot be covered by Oxford specialists without affecting their work at the John Radcliffe. “There are no longer sufficient numbers of consultants in the emergency surgical team at the Horton to secure a safe service for patients,” the OUH said in yesterday’s statement.
“Therefore the trust has taken a decision to suspend emergency abdominal surgery at the Horton General Hospital and transfer such surgery to the John Radcliffe from Friday,” its statement said. Paul Brennan, director of clinical services, would not expand on the reason for the shortage of consultants.
However he did say if colleagues from the JR were brought in to cover the shortage at the Horton it would impact on the care of Oxford patients and too many positions had been vacated to be filled by locums.
He said: “We do strongly believe emergency surgery should be rationalised but we didn’t want to be in the position where we are taking action in advance of the consultation.”
Trust bosses say the move will still form part of a three-month public consultation for a Vision for the Horton which begins in March.
GPs have already been told to refer suspected abdominal emergency cases to the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford instead of the Horton and ambulance crews will take such patients directly to the Headington site.
The OUH said the change affects an average of only five cases a week. Freeing surgeons from emergencies would allow them to perform more routine abdominal surgery at the Horton.
They rejected fears of a knock-on effect on other emergency services such as A&E in cases such as traffic or sporting accidents if ambulance crews suspect internal damage to organs such as the spleen.
A trust officer said paramedics would be told to take patients with suspected internal injuries straight to the JR, as is the current situation.
Unconfirmed cases would be taken to the Horton for assessment and stabilisation and only if internal injury were confirmed would they be taken by blue light to Oxford. A second surgeon from Oxford would attend the Horton to assist with patients too badly injured to be moved.
She said trauma services would not be affected and operating theatres will continue to be open and staffed night and day.
In its statement the OUH wrapped up the suspension of emergency abdominal surgery with news that it plans a £1m upgrade to outpatients, has secured maternity and paediatric services using enhanced consultant rotas, is expanding day case surgery and is also committed to securing A&E services with these, into the future.
Charlotte Bird, acting chairman of the Keep the Horton General Campaign said: “It’s too early to say much as we haven’t analysed the statement but is this the thin end of the wedge? Will we get the service back? Is the OUH likely to reinstate this emergency surgery if it’s already been taken on by the JR for five months?”