A ‘lack of trust’ in Devon’s health services commissioner has been voiced by councillors and health groups following the prolonged ‘temporary closure’ of some minor injury units (MIUs) in the county.
Since March, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, MIUs at Totnes, Dawlish and Ilfracombe (Tyrell) hospitals have been closed, and there is restricted opening of the MIU at Lydford.
Bideford’s MIU was also closed but reopened on October 5 after pressure from campaigners. It is currently open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm, offering treatment for a range of minor injuries including sprains, minor burns, cuts and minor breaks.
An open letter has been sent to Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and local MPs in affected constituencies, asking for a public guarantee that MIU services will be restored, along with all other suspended community hospital services and clinics, as soon as the crisis begins to ease.
The letter, dated November 29, has been signed by councillors, Leagues of Friends and campaigners across Devon express their concerns at the ongoing closure of MIUs in smaller hospitals, and its impact.
The letter states: “These closures cause difficulty and distress to patients across rural Devon. Poor public transport intensifies the problem for communities in coastal areas and on Dartmoor. For some, reaching treatment 10 or 20 miles away is impossible.
“There is strong support for the use of our remaining community hospitals to provide nursing care at this time of public health crisis. It shows how desperately community beds are needed to relieve pressure on our acute hospitals and the care sector.
“Patients also understand the need to carefully assess the safety of sites where Covid-19 patients are being treated, and to place NHS staff where they can meet the most urgent needs.
“However, there is a lack of trust that the CCG will reopen these services as promised when it is safe to do so.
“MIU closure has historically been the precursor to more radical cuts in services and even hospital closures, as was the case at Torrington and Teignmouth.
“Beyond the immediate impact, there is great anxiety that this situation may be allowed to continue once the crisis is over. MIUs are particularly important when GP surgeries are closed.
“This means that patients are more likely to call South Western Ambulance Service – calls were up 25 per cent at the start of the closure period – and more likely to end up at an emergency department. Other patients will delay getting the help they need or be deterred from seeking treatment at all.
“The secretary of state for health has reiterated his support for community hospitals during the Covid-19 crisis. Where towns still have a community hospital, it has provided critical coordination for primary, community and voluntary care services.
“Post-acute Covid-19 patients have many ongoing health challenges that are placing even more demands on the community care sector.
“This is why community hospitals are being reopened in other parts of the country, and why the government has promised to build new hospitals just over the border in Dorset.
“The case for community hospitals has never been so strong. We ask you to provide a public guarantee that MIU services will be restored, along with all other suspended community hospital services and clinics, as soon as the crisis begins to ease.”
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A spokesperson for the NHS in Devon said: “The trusts that run the MIUs are working on reopening all of them as soon as possible, while balancing significant and ongoing extra pressure caused by the need to safely look after people with Covid and reduced staffing levels due to those who are off sick or isolating.
“A small number of Minor Injury Units were temporarily closed due to staffing pressures, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In many cases, highly skilled MIU staff were redeployed to emergency departments and urgent treatment centres during the pandemic.”
For now, on a temporary basis, people who would normally go to Totnes or Dawlish are asked to attend the Urgent Treatment Centre at Newton Abbot, while people in the Ilfracombe area needing non-emergency help should call NHS 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk to be directed to the best healthcare service for their needs.
Outpatient clinics have restarted in NDHT’s community hospitals and the trust is pleased to be able to deliver these services again to communities across north Devon.
Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the MIUs in Totnes and Dawlish, is recruiting to the vacant roles in the units and hopes to safely reopen both units in the near future.
For more on Dawlish MIU, click here.