Legal challenge against decision to close Grantham Hospital’s A&E unit can go ahead
There are few issues that mobilise community campaigners as quickly as the temporary closure of the accident and emergency department at a local hospital. Changing the A&E at Grantham to an Urgent Care Centre is one of many hundreds of notable service changes made across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it comes on the back of years of discussion about the service and ahead of a widely expected public consultation on its future. The requirements for decision-making around temporary variations to service of this type has been something of a grey area. This legal action will be closely watched by other NHS bodies with similar service variations and, of course, by us at the Institute.
A High Court legal challenge has been granted permission to proceed against the decision to close Grantham Hospital’s A&E department and replace it with an urgent care centre until at least 31 March 2021.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) announced in June 2020 that it was to immediately implement proposals to convert Grantham District Hospital to a “Green Site” in order to carry out planned cancer and urgent surgery in a Covid safe environment.
In order to convert the hospital to a Green Site, the Trust decided to downgrade existing services at Grantham and District Hospital, which included closing the A&E department and replace it with an urgent treatment centre run by a different Trust, the closure of medical beds and the relocation of many outpatients’ services from the hospital.
Local people, including campaigners for SOS Grantham Hospital which has been fighting to protect and maintain Grantham Hospital’s A & E and acute services for over a decade, feel the plans were made without appropriate public consultation or engagement.
Jayne Dawson, one of those opposed to the decision, instructed Irwin Mitchell’s specialist public law and human rights team to bring a legal challenge. The court was told by lawyers for Ms Dawson that the decision of the hospital trust managers was unlawful and that the case was arguable. Permission was granted by the High Court judge and a date will now be set for the case to be heard in full by the court, expected to take place in January 2021.
The Trust said the changes are temporary and made in response to the national health emergency.
Faith Salih, a specialist public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Our client, Jayne, is delighted that their case has been granted permission for a Judicial Review. Jayne believes that closing the Grantham A&E department and inpatient beds will have an adverse effect on many people that depend on the facilities at their local hospital. The nearest A&E department is now over 20 miles from Grantham and many patients will have to travel a long time to get there.
“Jayne believes that the NHS Trust has acted unlawfully by not taking into consideration the needs of patients who need to use their local hospital and failing to involve them prior to making the decision. Whether these arrangements are temporary or not, the changes will have a significant impact on many people who use the service. Jayne is concerned that an urgent treatment centre will not be sufficient to deal with patients who require emergency, life-saving treatment and that the remaining Accident and Emergency departments are too busy and too far away.
“Jayne is among a number of local people concerned about the longer term future of the hospital if these changes remain in place until March 2021. It is well known locally that a consultation on the long-term future of NHS hospital services in Lincolnshire is awaited, and that one of the options is for the Accident and Emergency Department at Grantham District Hospital to be replaced by an urgent care centre but there are other options.”
Jayne, aged 54 and from Grantham, said: “While I understand the need for increased services and specialist care for those affected by the pandemic, I strongly feel that taking away our A&E department was not the way to go.
“Replacing it with an urgent treatment centre is not good enough as it will not be able to provide an adequate service to those suffering life-threatening conditions, and this will undoubtedly have a worrying effect on patients that require life-saving treatment. I believe that there is a risk of delays in other Accident and Emergency departments in the county increasing. There is also a concern that local people are being put at risk of increased transmission of Covid-19 if they have to travel out of area for treatment. I am pleased that our case has been granted permission for judicial review so that the courts can consider whether the decision was taken lawfully.”
Charmaine Morgan, district councillor and chair of SOS Grantham Hospital, said: “The impact of the changes imposed on Grantham & District Hospital by United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust in June, which they argued were in response to Covid-19, were the worst I have ever known.
“Vulnerable people, many elderly or disabled, who had been self-isolating, have been forced to travel across county for regular scans and blood tests; some sharing buses with strangers for hours.
“All in all, local people feel badly betrayed by the health officials now providing a third class service to the residents of Grantham. They have gutted our local hospital and left our acute and outpatient services scattered across the town, county and beyond.”
A spokesperson for ULHT said: “The Trust does not intend to comment on the ongoing legal proceedings, other than to say the changes made to services at Grantham hospital were temporary in nature and made in response to the national COVID-19 emergency. We do intend to defend the claim.”
Article originally appeared on Grantham Journal.
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