Campaigners warn St Andrews’ out of hours service could still close

St Andrews Community Hospital.
St Andrews Community Hospital.

Campaigners have warned that the out of hours service at St Andrews Community Hospital could still close.

They have accused Fife Health and Social Care Partnership of seeking to impose reduced hours and an unsustainable staffing structure which risks patient safety.

The Out of Hours group, a working group of St Andrews Community Council which represents community councils across north east Fife, said the model being developed ‘dangerously waters down’ what was promised.

The group claims managers are planning to close the unit two hours earlier than agreed on a Saturday night; to open the unit only between 7-10pm on weekdays; to relocate the mobile car to Kirkcaldy after an initial placement at St Andrews; and to, over time, cut the amount of time there is GP cover on Saturday and Sunday.

They also said the partnership was advertising for staff to cover three-hour shifts, but say that this is hard to fill.

The Out of Hours group has now written to NHS Fife to share its concerns about the plans.

Dr Angela Anderson, chair of the group, said: “The permanent OOH service the partnership is planning to reinstate at St Andrews in December will cover fewer hours, with less GP presence and less car availability locally than we and the IJB were led to believe in June.

“The only reason for this reduced service can be cost as St Andrews had enough GPs willing to work in the out of hours service.

“The introduction of three-hour shifts despite warnings from out of hours service GPs that they are unworkable will make staffing so difficult that the service may well be unviable.

“We are afraid the partnership is setting up the new service to fail.

“We are also extremely disappointed by the assurances we were given by NHS Fife about the partnership’s ongoing commitment to continue discussions with us to help develop, refine and implement the revised model for the service.

“In practice, the partnership has progressed plans without consulting with us in any meaningful way, and has continued to ignore the voices of those working in the out of hours service at St Andrews.

“The depleted out of hours service brought in last year under contingency measures has left many patients toughing it out at home rather than trying to get to Kirkcaldy in the early hours. It has also left first responders, the ambulance service and A&E departments struggling with significantly increased demand.”

Nicky Connor, interim director, Fife Health & Social Care Partnership, said: “Following extensive consultation and engagement, Fife Health & Social Care Partnership’s Integration Joint Board (IJB) approved the new model for Out of Hours Urgent Care.

“The model approved was developed using detailed data, clinical evidence and with full engagement with communities and teams, and we are working closely with staff and medical colleagues to implement this model.

“Staff and union representatives are fully involved in working groups to implement the changes and we meet regularly and work together, on a one-to-one basis if required, to ensure all views are captured and the model to be implemented is safe for patients and staff and is sustainable.

“The IJB recognises the value of ongoing engagement to support the implementation and we continue to work with representative groups of the communities most affected through the consultation phase and with the wider community to improve our communications so the people of Fife know who to turn to during the out of hours period.”