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One in A&E units could face closure. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dozens of accident and emergency units are facing closure or being downgraded in a far-reaching overhaul of urgent care which senior doctors warn would have “disastrous” consequences for the NHS.
An analysis of documents drawn up to remodel the health service in England shows that 24 casualty units from Durham to Somerset have been marked for potential closure despite record demand for A&Es and serious overcrowding across the country as the NHS goes through its most severe winter crisis since records began. Last month produced the worst performance for A&E waits in 13 years.
175 emergency units
NHS bosses who have drawn up the changes as part of efforts to plug a £22bn hole in the health service budget by 2021, insist that concentration of specialist urgent services could save lives and there are no plans for a “significant” reduction in the existing number of 175 emergency units.
But one senior emergency doctor told i that the plans amount to proposal to “make the River Nile run backwards” by planning for a reduction in demand for A&E services at a time when Britain has a growing and ageing population.
Research based on 44 regional blueprints by the Johnston Press Investigation Unit reveals that managers are planning to cater for up to 30 per cent fewer A&E visits and plans have already been advanced to downgrade units to urgent care centres (UCC) with fewer specialist or consultant-grade staff.
In north east London, the King George Hospital will see its A&E become a UCC by 2019. Similar plans are under consideration in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and Poole in Dorset. In Staffordshire, health bosses have set a goal of a 30 per cent reduction in A&E visits; in Norfolk the figure is 20 per cent.