The majority of hospitals across the West Midlands face losing emergency trauma services in a shake-up of the NHS.
Plans are under way to send all severely ill victims of car crashes, shootings, stabbings, sporting injuries, falls or industrial accidents to one regional “trauma centre” instead of the nearest A&E.
Patients needing specialised heart, trauma and neurology surgery or severe wounds and amputations could face a 45-minute journey under the proposals.
Four in every five hospitals have a trauma team and there are at least ten major hospitals with A&Es from Stafford to Wolverhampton, Worcester, Coventry, Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham that would be affected if services are only required at one hospital instead.
The Department of Health has issued the trauma reconfiguration as a “must do” for 2011, project leader Rachel O’Connor revealed.
Miss O’Connor, from the West Midlands Specialised Commissioning Team (WMSC), said the changes were being made to save more lives.
“It will mean patients with severe injuries will receive care at fewer centres in the future,” said Miss O’Connor. “The natural consensus is that patients arrive at a major trauma centre within 45 minutes.
“We expect that by making changes, there will be a 20 per cent improvement in major trauma cases – 45 to 60 more survivors in the West Midlands each year.
“Patients need to receive care in rapid time and have access to theatre and rehabilitation immediately and 24 hours a day. Patients receive better outcomes if they have the right care within a two hour window. It is not to save money.
“To create a major trauma care system that enables people to return to work is good economically.”
Rob Lusuardi, associate director of WMSC, said: “This could potentially lead to the closure of departments in hospitals and if so, potentially losing a type of work, that has an impact on the workforce.
“There are no plans to close anything, we are just reviewing the options.”
Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, in Edgbaston, was described as a main contender for “trauma centre status” but a second hospital in the region could also be appointed.
A final decision is set to be made by primary care trust bosses over the summer with changes taking place by March next year.
It is estimated that there are 1,000 patients treated for trauma in the West Midlands a year, which is the most common cause of death in the under-40s and costs the NHS nationally £400 million a year.
The move has attracted criticism from health watchdogs including Coun Deirdre Alden (Cons, Edgbaston), chair of Birmingham Health Scrutiny Committee, who said: “We have heard it all before that people will be getting a better service when it’s really about European time directives and finances because it is happening across the health service.”
John Lister, from Health Emergency campaign group, said: “There could be more danger with the wait to get patients there, especially getting from one side of the West Midlands into Birmingham.
“Any delay in getting people to hospital can be dangerous. We are getting the biggest cuts the NHS has ever seen over the next three years plus the uncertainty of the NHS reforms, so we don’t know what we are going to get in the end.
“Our NHS is being put at risk. Unless the brakes are put on, there is going to be serious damage to the NHS.”
Hospitals including Good Hope, in Sutton Coldfield, City Hospital, in Winson Green and Russells Hall, in Dudley, could be forced to no longer carry out emergency trauma surgery or specialist cardiac and brain injury services under the changes.
Cost-cutting measures have emerged including plans that could see 740 hospital beds cut across Birmingham and Solihull to save millions of pounds by NHS leaders of the region’s cluster group. The cuts are planned across major acute hospitals in the city including Queen Elizabeth, Heartlands, Good Hope, Solihull and City hospitals. If it goes ahead, it would mean about 15 per cent of the 4,500 hospital beds could go in favour of more community-based care at home.
Solihull NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) also revealed that a young adult patient died from swine flu after being taken into a walk-in centre instead of A&E in a cost-cutting move. The PCT had ordered paramedics to take more “non-urgent” patients to walk-in centres instead of A&E from October last year to save the NHS £75,000. But within three months of it starting, a young adult with flu-like symptoms was taken to the walk-in centre and ended up dying from swine flu. The cost of taking a patient to Solihull walk-in centre is £30 for Solihull PCT and £180 for other PCTs, compared to £581 to go to an A&E medical assessment unit.