A&E Campaigns ‘Will Cost Lives’

Campaigns to save local A&E departments from closure could lead to more than 1,000 unnecessary deaths each year, a report has warned. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said specialist units were better placed than local hospitals to deal with high-risk patients.

{mosimage}The report comes as Tony Blair is due to urge managers to make the case for reorganising NHS services in England. Financial concerns must not drown out arguments for change, the PM will say.

Mr Blair will outline the government’s case for NHS reform in a speech to local health managers and doctors at the NHS Confederation on Tuesday. He will say service improvements in NHS hospitals are being implemented to ensure the very sick have speedy access to specialist care but also to treat people more conveniently closer to home.

“The best is yet to come with more lives saved, stopping more pain and distress,” he will say.

But critics of the reforms say they will put patient lives at risk and are being carried out to cut costs.

Meanwhile, two government advisers, Sir George Alberti and Professor Roger Boyle, are due to publish separate reports arguing for a range of urgent care services, including out-of-hours GPs, walk-in-centres and a bigger role for paramedics, alongside specialist units.

The IPPR finding is based on data showing how many extra lives could be saved if everyone had access to new techniques to treat heart attacks. If heart attack care was reconfigured to ensure universal access to emergency angioplasty, around 500 extra lives could be saved every year, it said.

Last year only 1,600 of 61,000 heart attack patients were treated in a specialist unit.

Also there is evidence that people who have suffered severe injury are more likely to survive if they are treated in specialist centres rather than local hospitals. The Royal College of Surgeons and British Orthopaedic Society estimates that universal access to specialist trauma centres could save around 770 lives a year.

The IPPR researchers said people should be out on the streets campaigning for changes to the way hospitals provide services rather than campaigning to keep traditional services open.

“We’re not saying that hospitals should close, we’re talking about reconfiguring services,” said IPPR research fellow Joe Farrington-Douglas. He said: “The NHS and government should be able to demonstrate how changes will improve care and local people should hold the NHS to account, but they need to understand that preserving the local hospital will not always be in their best interest if something life-threatening happens.” He added: “Some district hospitals are not as safe as they should be and that point has not been effectively made.”

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ committee said decisions on reconfiguration must be based on “good evidence”. “It is absolutely right that there is a public debate about the way our health services are delivered in the future and it is vital that patients and clinicians are properly informed and engaged in these discussions,” he said.