Patients desert Stafford Hospital in wake of scandal for 17 mile trip to Stoke-on-Trent A&E
DOZENS of people a month needing emergency care are voting with their feet and deserting Stafford's troubled hospital to travel to an A&E unit in Stoke-on-Trent.
Stafford Hospital – where up to 1,200 patients died needlessly over four years – has been shutting its accident unit at night for more than a year because of shortages of doctors.
But new figures show around 70 patients a month are turning their back on Stafford's accident unit even when it is open – to instead seek treatment at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. A significant number are being sent to the Potteries for emergency care by Stafford GPs.
It has also emerged that it often takes longer for Stafford patients to be discharged from the University Hospital's beds because they are looked after by a different health trust.
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The latest figures – due to be reported to city councillors on Monday – show an average of 314 more people a month from South Staffordshire have been treated at the University Hospital since the A&E closure.
They include 67 a month who travel north to the Hartshill-based A&E between 8am and 8pm – when Stafford A&E is open.
The rise in Stafford patients accounts for around a third of the 11.6 per cent jump in numbers flooding into the University Hospital in the past year. A report to city councillors states: "Around 60 per cent of the daytime increase from South Staffordshire is made up of patients travelling by car, public transport or taxi rather than by ambulance. This suggests patients are choosing, or being referred by GPs, to attend the University Hospital rather than Stafford's A&E."
The figures have been released just days after the damning Francis Inquiry report into care at Stafford.
Julie Bailey, chairman of Stafford pressure group Cure The NHS, said: "It does not surprise me that people are opting to travel to Stoke-on-Trent.
"The hospital should stop spinning that there have been big improvements."
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch, said: "It's highly significant that we are not just talking about people's own preferences but that GPs are also making hard clinical decisions about where they want their patients treated. But because NHS community care is so much weaker in South Staffordshire it takes longer for complex cases from there to be discharged."
Audley GP Dr Richard Page, head of unplanned care with North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, added: "These patients have a longer length of stay and are more difficult to repatriate."