NHS FIFE approved plans to move its out of hours accident and emergency services to Queen Margaret Hospital at a meeting on Wednesday.
Under the new plans, accident and emergency at the Victoria Hospital would be downgraded to a minor injuries unit, with seriously injured people being transferred to the QMH, although health bosses have stressed that 85 per cent of patients could still be treated at the Vic.
The operational division committee agreed to the measures at their meeting yesterday.
Dr Gordon Birnie, medical director of the operational division, made the recommendation to the board.
He said: “My view is our emergency care service is safe, but fragile.
‘‘It’s important that we realign this service now rather than wait for patient safety to be compromised.”
NHS Fife initiated its contingency plans several times last year, when A&E was downgraded to a minor injuries unit, citing European Working Time Regulations and an inability to recruit locums.
Dr Birnie added: “People may ask why don’t we just operate the contingency as it is?
‘‘It’s very difficult to keep the public informed on a day by day basis or even an hour by hour basis.
“We have consulted with the public and they also think it would be safer.”
Dr Birnie also emphasised that during the time the contingency plan was in place last year there were no adverse clinical events, and no complaints from the small number of patients being transferred.
Chairman of the operations division of NHS Fife, Dave Stewart, said: “We’ve consulted extensively and if we proceed with this decision this will provide the safer option for our patients.”
Non-executive board member John Winton added: “Shutting it down on short notice like before was a recipe for disaster.
‘‘Doing this on an ad hoc basis is obviously no good.
‘‘In moving the entire thing to Dunfermline there may be some difficulties, but this is the way forward.”
The change is expected to happen within the next couple of months, dependent on clinical conditions, and will be in place until the new wing of the Victoria Hospital is completed in 2012.