Fears city hospital will be 'fit to burst'
HUNDREDS more patients look set to be diverted from Stafford Hospital amid concerns over the centre's long-term viability.
Management consultants have warned routine cases should instead be sent to the already over-stretched University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS).
But NHS campaigners fear the move will leave UHNS on the verge of being "fit to burst".
The say routine cases from the Potteries could themselves have to be sent to other hospitals.
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Problems started for Stafford when high death rates were discovered and then doctors' shortages led to the overnight closure of its A&E since last December.
As a Foundation Trust it is regulated by the group, Monitor, which in September sent consultants Ernst and Young and McKinsey in to examine its long-term future.
Although not due to report until next March, the experts issued an alert that it is struggling in its current form.
Stephen Hay, director of provider regulation at Monitor, said: "We have always acknowledged that Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust has made significant improvements in clinical standards in recent years.
"However the independent experts have now advised us that they are likely to conclude that the trust cannot sustain itself either financially or clinically in the long term.
"As the team goes on to look at alternative solutions, we at Monitor will work to ensure that local hospital services continue to be available for the benefit of the whole community."
The trust is currently being kept afloat by an annual Department of Health injection of more then £20 million and the experts believe that even if it achieves challenging annual cost savings, it cannot break even without further long-term funding.
Now the consultants will work closely with Stafford, the county's primary care trusts, other hospitals including UHNS, patient representatives and the public to evaluate options for the long-term provision of services to patients in the Mid Staffordshire area.
UHNS chairman John MacDonald said: "I am sure hospitals like us will be asked to play a wider role as some smaller hospitals start to re-shape their services."
Ian Syme, of pressure group Healthwatch, said: "Bed occupancy at UHNS is already around 98 per cent so it will be fit to bursting with these extra patients.
Detailed capacity planning is needed or we will see more cancelled operations and patients transferred to other hospitals."