King George Hospital in Ilford to shut children’s emergency department overnight temporarily

King George Hospital in Ilford is shutting down another service as it struggles with staffing levels during the pandemic.

From November 16, the children’s emergency department will close every night from 9pm until 9am, with any emergencies instead treated at Queen’s Hospital in Romford.

A spokesperson for the hospital’s NHS trust said it was “absolutely committed” to resuming night time treatment “as soon as it is safe to do so”.

In May, the trust for both hospitals – Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospital’s NHS Trust (BHRUT) – “temporarily” closed King George’s children’s inpatient ward.

However, in conversation with Redbridge councillors at a meeting in July, a spokesperson for the local NHS refused to confirm the change will not be permanent and it remains closed now.

Health campaigner Andy Walker said: “It’s a measure based out of desperation rather than clinical need.

“In exceptional circumstances, during an emergency, that appears to be a reasonable thing to do.

“But local parents will want an assurance, once the virus clears, there will be a children’s A&E at King George, which is 24 hours and has in-patient beds.”

Last month, it was revealed that more than half of patients with serious emergencies at Queen’s Hospital waited more than four hours.

Mr Walker added: “Study after study shows that, for the most ill patients, long waits at A&E literally kills, that’s why there is a four hour standard.

“My expectation is that what they are proposing is the right thing to do with the limited resources they have, but we need reasonable scrutiny of what’s going on and I’m not sure we are getting it.”

BHRUT explained it had been forced to temporarily close the department overnight because of staff vacancies and the number of paediatricians currently shielding.

A spokesperson said it hoped to return to treating children’s emergencies at all hours by April next year, depending on the “ongoing impact of the pandemic”.

Chief medical officer Dr Magda Smith said the move was a “COVID measure for COVID times”, adding: “This is because there will be no specialist children’s doctor on duty.”

She advised parents who were confused to contact 111 for advice or 999 if their child’s emergency was life-threatening.

Speaking at Redbridge Council’s health scrutiny committee meeting in July about the closure of the inpatient ward, a Redbridge councillor said she was “very concerned about what has been taken away” from residents.

Committee vice-chair Cllr Beverley Brewer (Lab, South Woodford) said: “We have a young population, we are a growing borough and Queen’s (Hospital) is a long way away.

“I personally know, having had four children myself who have not had good health, what it is like to have an acutely ill child and you have to get to hospital very quickly.

“I’m very concerned about what has been taken away from our residents, I want our residents to have their inpatient ward returned as soon as possible.”

At the time, Ceri Jacob, speaking for Redbridge’s clinical commissioning group, said she “(did) not think (they) can say anything is permanent at the moment”.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter