Key maternity and paediatric services look set to stay at Stafford Hospital following a high-profile public campaign, according to a final report on its future.
Trust Special Administrators (TSAs) appointed earlier this year to look at the long-term future of the scandal-hit Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust published their final recommendations, including several large changes to their draft proposals published earlier this year.
Under these proposals, a midwife-led maternity unit will be set up at Stafford, while there will be an upgraded 14-hour-a-day paediatric assessment unit staffed by specially trained clinicians – although seriously ill youngsters will still go to specialist centres.
The administrators also made it clear that basic critical care services will remain at Stafford, with very sick patients taken to other neighbouring hospitals.
The TSA had previously said the site would keep its limited-hours accident and emergency department.
At the trust’s Cannock Chase Hospital, there will be more “step-down” care – where recovering patients are transferred from specialist hospitals to wards nearer their homes – and more elective surgery.
Meanwhile, it is still recommended to dissolve the Mid Staffs trust with the hospitals taken over by neighbouring NHS trusts.
A huge public campaign, which saw more than 50,000 march through the streets of Stafford earlier this year, had urged the administrators to keep maternity and paediatric services in the town.
Alan Bloom, one of the TSAs, said: “We now have a plan for the future which means over 90% of the people who currently use these hospitals continuing to do so.”
He said the proposals were “the best chance” to ensure the long-term future of services. By doing nothing the trust’s current £20m deficit could have almost doubled in four years’ time but under their recommendations it would fall to below £15m over the same period, he added.
The TSAs believe their plans will save about £25m per year to 2017, while there will be £130 of capital funding to extend services at separate hospitals in Stoke, Wolverhampton and Walsall, run by University Hospital of North Staffordshire Trust and The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals Trust.
Under the proposals, Stafford Hospital would be run by the North Staffordshire trust, and Cannock taken on by the Royal Wolverhampton.
The proposals require the agreement of independent health watchdog Monitor, which appointed the TSAs in April, and the final approval of the health secretary by February 26, 2014.
Any transition would happen over three years, with the new structure fully up and running by the start of 2017 financial year.
Under the new arrangement, staff would be transferred to the two other trusts, with the process beginning as soon as the recommendations get government approval.
Mr Bloom said that, although the TSAs had now published plans for the long-term, there were immediate concerns over short-term staffing – particularly in nursing posts – and they were working with other health trusts and commissioners to tackle the issue.
Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor, another one of the TSAs, added: “When we started this process, many believed our recommendations would be to close these hospitals but we have been able to preserve both Stafford and Cannock, and that must be regarded as a success.”
But campaign group Support Stafford Hospital was critical of the new recommendations, with chair Sue Hawkins saying she thought the midwife-led unit would “dwindle away” because it would not attract enough women to sustain it for more than a few years.
She said: “It sounds good – they’re saying 50% of people could deliver here but the reality is about 10% would choose to - people would choose to go elsewhere.
“We have to wait for the secretary of state, although I don’t think it’s going to change,” said Ms Hawkins.
“Then we have to look to what we can do to influence the commissioners, because that’s really where the power does lie. It’s not the end of the journey.”
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