An independent investigation has been ordered into soaring A&E delays in west London following the closure of two casualty units.
NHS England is examining whether the decline in performance at Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals is linked to the axing of the A&Es at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex.
The probe was requested by local GPs after London North West Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Northwick Park and Ealing, recorded the worst delays in the country for patients waiting to be treated at main A&Es.
In the week to October 19, it saw just 67.8 per cent of patients within four hours. The following week, it was 73.3 per cent. Over the four weeks, 2,813 patients have waited more than the four-hour NHS target to be seen.
Today NHS England figures showed that London North West Healthcare Trust had fallen back to second worst in the country for the week ending November 16, with only 68.7 per cent of patients attending its “type 1” (ie main) A&Es being seen in four hours. Only the trust that now runs the scandal-hit Stafford hospital was worse.
In an interview with the Standard, Dr Mark Spencer, clinical lead for the Shaping a Healthier Future programme behind the A&E changes in North West London, claimed the increased delays were not a result of the closures but were due to more people seeking emergency treatment.
“Undoubtedly we are not happy with the performance,” he said. “At the moment, a lot of this is unexplained. We need to look at that. If we are wrong, we will find out how we got it wrong and not do it again.
“It’s not good care. If you had a relative stuck on a trolley for four hours you would be pretty cheesed off. Whether it has an impact on mortality is hard to say.”
The A&E closures at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex, on September 10, were the first in a series of changes to emergency care approved by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt a year ago.
The next changes will see Ealing and Charing Cross rebuilt as £80 million “local hospitals” performing day surgery, with their A&Es becoming “emergency centres” run by GPs and emergency nurse practitioners.
The Department of Health insists that the hospitals will continue to provide “A&E services” but campaigners believe the units are being downgraded.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Local people can be reassured that, as the Health Secretary made clear to Parliament last year, Ealing hospital will continue to provide A&E services.”
But Ealing council leader Julian Bell saying an emergency department run by GPs and without an intensive care unit and blue-light ambulances “isn’t an A&E that the public would recognise”.
Dr Spencer insisted Northwick Park was now “safer” than before as it was relying on fewer agency staff and locum doctors, and the number of emergency consultants “on the shop floor” had increased.
He said there were no plans to suspend or scrap Shaping a Healthier Future, which aims to deliver care via GPs and in the community to tackle the epidemic in obesity and heart disease.
Dr Spencer said: “While I remain concerned that people are not getting the best care at the moment, it doesn’t mean we don’t think this is the right direction of travel. We always said Shaping a Healthier Future is a slow process.”