The Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at North Middlesex Hospital could be shut because it is unsafe.
Patients and workers at the hospital in Enfield, north London, have reacted with fear and anger to the news.
Patient Mary told Socialist Worker, “This is my nearest hospital. Where would I go if this closed?
“They know what’s the matter with me here, they know everything. Please don’t send me to another hospital.”
A hospital worker told Socialist Worker, “It cannot be closed down, it’s not possible. If there’s a problem it doesn’t mean it should be closed. If they close this, where are people going to go?”
Documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper exposed fears that patients are at “serious risk” of harm at the A&E.
NHS training agency Health Education England identified “extreme workload” and “poor levels of staffing” at the site.
Other failings included a “culture of bullying” and “deficiencies in basic emergency department equipment”.
Michelle, a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service, told Socialist Worker, “I usually go to North Middlesex at least once a shift, but I try not to because it’s so depressing.
“Staff are completely demoralised and overworked. It’s like a warzone rather than an A&E.”
In February this year A&E staff were so overwhelmed that they asked patients to “go home unless you have a life-threatening illness”.
Over 100 patients were told the wait to see a doctor would be eight hours for an adult and six for children.
Long waits were common at the A&E last week. Ali, who was there with an elderly relative, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve been here since six this morning and now it’s 11.15am. That’s not good—she’s 85 years old.”
Mary had been waiting over an hour despite having an appointment. “My legs are killing me—I’ve got arthritis in both of them,” she said.
“Every time I sit down I get pains. Every time I stand up I get pains. I’m fed up.”
The leaked documents detail a meeting of hospital bosses last month. It said junior staff had been left in charge of the department, posing “a probable risk to patients”.
The hospital denies that junior doctors have ever been left in charge of the A&E. But boss Julie Lowe said the department had just seven of the 15 A&E consultants it should have —and seven out of the 13 required middle-grade medics.
Michelle said, “Our ambulances can be queuing for over an hour to hand over a patient.
“It’s meant to take no more than 15 minutes and hospitals get fined if it’s longer. But fining hospitals that need more money doesn’t help.”
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Like many hospitals, North Middlesex is a victim of a private finance intiative (PFI) deal. These leave hospitals struggling with a mountain of debt to private firms.
North Middlesex Hospital worker Clive said, “People should ask who is causing these problems.
“Why did they waste all this money building a new hospital rather than investing in frontline services that are suffering?
“At night we can have ten or 15 people sleeping in the waiting area. Where is the minister of health? Do they come to the hospital to see what’s going on? No they don’t.”
Clive said the government had the “wrong policies”. “They should be blamed,” he said.
Cuts elsewhere have piled pressure onto North Middlesex. The A&E department at nearby Chase Farm Hospital closed in December 2013.
Campaigners say North Middlesex was not given resources to cope with the extra demand.
Jimmy is a patient at the hospital. He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been coming here at least two times a month for 16 or 17 years. So I’m always seeing what the A&E is like. It has got more packed since Chase Farm closed.
“A lot of people are coming in for appointments. It’s very crowded and stressful.
“There’s always a backlog, appointments take a bit longer. You know you’ll have an hour or half an hour extra to wait.”
Wider cuts are putting more pressure on A&Es too. Paramedic Michelle said, “There’s been a rise in numbers attending A&E.
“Elderly people who can’t look after themselves properly at home keep returning to A&E because social care has been cut.
“Cuts to mental health services leave people with nowhere to go—so they go to A&E. A crisis of staffing with GPs means it’s harder to get a GP appointment, so people go to A&E.”
Last week it was revealed that GP practices had stopped registering new patients across an entire town, Hessle in Humberside, because of lack of staff.
The Tories’ demand for the NHS to make billions of pounds in “savings” will only make things worse.
The General Medical Council doctors’ body could remove North Middlesex Hospital A&E’s 26 doctors if it remains unsafe, forcing it to close.
But this would put more patients at risk.
“The A&E is definitely unsafe,” said Michelle. “But closing it will just put more pressure on others and move the problem elsewhere.”
More resources, not more closures, is the solution.
Jimmy said, “The staff are trying their best. But it’s very busy and they are understaffed. There should be more funding for this. They need more staff and more in the budget.”