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People believe Pilgrim Hospital’s children’s ward will still close after heated public meeting

People still believe that the temporary closure of Pilgrim Hospital’s children’s ward is a done deal despite enough staff being recruited to keep the ward open until July.

Officials say in an urgent review of services at the children’s inpatient and paediatric services may close temporarily due to a shortage of qualified doctors.

A heated public meeting was held at Boston Grammar School last night, May 10, with officials from ULHT answering questions from the public.

But some people were still not satisfied with what had been discussed at the meeting.

Rachel Bray, from Boston, who is part of the SOS Pilgrim group, said it is incredibly important that the hospital stays open.

She said: “It’s hugely important to keep it open as far as I am concerned for both mums, babies and the unborn. Their lives could be at risk.

People at the meeting held at Boston Grammar School
People at the meeting held at Boston Grammar School

“If we have to travel from Boston to Lincoln with tractors on the roads and the infrastructure [of the roads] is ludicrous and lives will be lost.

“We know there is a recruitment problem and they [health officials] are looking at the long term future but that doesn’t help now.

“My fear is that if they temporarily close the service then it will not re-open.”

The 39-year-old added that most people feel the decision has already been made.

Another person who attended the meeting was Alison Marriott, from Boston, who had given birth just two weeks ago.

She said: “I am quite worried despite reassurances tonight.

“I feel I haven’t had straight answers.

“While I am pleased they are sending out messages to keep services, I am not convinced.

“The doctors working on the front line say it wouldn’t be safe if [the ward] closed as distance is a problem. But the problem would be capacity – is there enough space in wards at Peterborough, Lincoln or Nottingham.”

Jan Sobieraj speaking at the meeting
Jan Sobieraj speaking at the meeting

Officials at the meeting from United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust answered questions as well as stating what they had done to combat the problem.

There are currently 4.5 full-time, middle-grade doctors, and due to temporary agency staff filling gaps it was thought this would have reduced just one in July, but the trust has managed to recruit enough staff to push this back to the end of July.

Medical director of ULHT said at the meeting: “The problem is that we are unable to recruit enough middle grade doctors and that is what has precipitated the crisis.

“We thought by the start of June we would only have one doctor. We have managed to staff the rota until the end of July and we are working very hard and what was a looming crisis on June 4 has been pushed back to end of July.”

1: Maintain current services at Pilgrim Hospital, which is reliant on finding additional multi-professional staff from agencies to cover childrens’, maternity and neonatal services and getting the right balance between substantive and temporary staff.

2: Temporary closure of the childrens’ inpatient ward at Pilgrim with effect from June 4 – providing additional staffing cannot be secured.

Temporary redirection of paediatric emergencies transported by ambulance. Increase gestational age for delivery within the high risk birthing unit from 30 weeks to 34 weeks.

3: Temporary closure of the paediatric inpatient services at Pilgrim with effect from June 4. Temporary redirection of paediatric emergencies. Retaining consultant-led obstetrics and neonatology at Pilgrim until July 1 when medical staffing reduces beyond the ability to support neonatology. From July 1 temporary closure of consultant-led obstetrics and neonatology at Pilgrim until the staffing gaps can be addressed. Establish midwifery-led birthing unit at Pilgrim Hospital and a co-located midwifery led birthing unit at the Lincoln Hospital to facilitate increased activity on the consultant-led unit.

4: Maintain current paediatric in-patient services, consultant-led obstetrics and neonatology services at Pilgrim and Lincoln Hospitals with a temporary transfer of staff. Stop all paediatric impatient and day case elective at both Pilgrim and Lincoln. Stop all general paediatric outpatient appointments.

Hospital bosses say eight full-time doctors are required to cover the paediatrics.

The trust also has around 20 whole-time childrens’ nurses but only 17 are available to work in childrens’ services.

The trust said 29 are needed.

The doctor added that the shortage is a nationwide problem and they are making an attractive offer for people who want to work in Lincolnshire.

He said: “One in four paediatric posts are vacant – it’s not just a Pilgrim problem, it’s national.

“We have an attractive offer in terms of relocation and support. We have tried to attract doctors from abroad who need help with their English language tests but only a small number have accepted.”

Should closing the childrens’ services be the preferred choice, it would have a knock-on effect on neonatal and maternity services and could lead to it being downgraded to midwifery-only, with high risk pregnant mums being referred elsewhere in the county.

The trust is currently reviewing its children’s services.

Graph showing the decline in staffing
Graph showing the decline in staffing

Although pediatricians and senior nurses at Pilgrim hospital say that current services are safe, they may struggle to provide them in the future if things remain as they are.

In February, ULHT reduced the number of in-patient beds to eight and suspended all planned children’s surgery at Pilgrim to free up nurses’ time, as these staffing shortages became worse.

A decision is yet to be made on the options for the ward and this will be discussed at Friday, May 25, when the trust’s board meets at the Reservation in Sleaford.

Here are questions that were asked by members of the public at the meeting:

1. Is there an option for doctors to rent for sometime to encourage doctors to come here as they don’t want to buy as people get stuck here in the middle section of their lives?

Chief Executive Officer of ULHT, Jan Sobieraj, said: For those who want to buy we offer a generous relocation package. We have rented housing that is attractive and used sensibly as a stepping stone.

2. We have three million visitors come to this area and are reliant on Boston hospital. Matt [Warman MP] you have to go back to Parliament and stop the destruction of the NHS.

Matt Warman said: I want to see Lincolnshire get a fairer slice of the cake for the NHS. I am not going to be prepared to stand by where the health services are cut.

3. Why would people work here when we have a lack of job security?

Matt Warman said: I agree with you. The most important thing is to get a plan for the future of health care across Lincolnshire that says this is what the future looks like.

4. If we have known for 10 years [of the shortage] then isn’t it self professing that they won’t come here to work if you know a job is under threat. What has been put in place?

Jan Sobieraj said: Our priority is to keep children’s services going. We know we have 19 children come through here each day. We transferred for a short period of time, not more than two weeks, nurses from paediatric to the emergency department.

The majority of children will come in each day and go home each day. Children need to be looked after.

5. I had a normal pregnancy and Oliver stopped breathing after seven seconds. If it wasn’t for neonateology he wouldn’t be here. Is that acceptable? Children are not just numbers.

Matt Warman said: If you close services then it’s less safe. That is where it is not acceptible. Everyone wants to see these services stay open. We are doing everything we can to recruit doctors. We are on the same side.