“There is no secret plan to downgrade Scarborough Hospital.”
That’s what Michael Proctor, chief executive York of Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told Scarborough Borough councillors, adding that social media was to blame for spreading panic about the future of emergency services in the town.
Addressing councillors on Monday Mr Proctor said that a confused clinician had put a report on social media saying there were proposals to downgrade the town’s accident and emergency department.
He sought to ease councillors concerns during a meeting at Scarborough Town Hall as he answered questions on the trust’s review of acute services.
He said: “The starting point for the review that we have undertaken is that there has got to be an emergency department at Scarborough Hospital. It’s not a question of should there be an emergency department, the starting point is there has to be.”
He told the councillors that the review of acute services was underway.
As part of the review, carried out by Mckinsey & Company, all the possible options for the hospital were examined, including the downgrading of the emergency department and other services, in order to show why those courses of action would not be viable and could be dismissed.
The review was put to around 50 clinicians to look at the methodology of the Mckinsey report and this is where, Mr Proctor said, the panic started.
He said: “What happened is that somebody looked at [the worst case options outlined in the report] and saw minor injury unit, and put that out on social media as the proposal for Scarborough Hospital and it never was. It was a scenario that was described so that we could eliminate it as an option.
“Somebody misunderstood [the document] and put it out on social media.
“These 50 clinicians were asked to work on this report, they are still working on it this week. One of the clinicians in the room, I think, must have misunderstood as all they could see were proposals, and there were never any proposals.”
He said that the trust had set up two small meetings to test the evaluation criteria of the report and, following the social media leak, more than 300 members of the public applied to attend. An online petition to save the A&E department also gathered more than 10,000 signatures.
Mr Proctor added: “I’ll be the first one to admit that the power of social media overwhelmed me.
“I had not understood the way things on there can escalate.”
He told the councillors that there would be some proposals next year, and then there would be a consultation.
Mr Proctor also told the councillors that recruiting to Scarborough was an issue.
He said: “The challenge I have as a chief executive is that I am finding it increasingly difficult to recruit to the 24-hour services needed to surround an emergency department.
“Scarborough Hospital is one of 10 or 12 in the country that have their own title, they are called ‘unavoidably small’. They are generally hospitals on the coast and they don’t have a huge catchment area as there are only 180 degrees around it rather than 360.
“Small hospitals increasingly found it difficult to recruit consultants.”
He said Scarborough itself had a vacancy rate of 20% for clinical consultant roles and in some specialities, the rate was 50%.
He also denied that consultants based in York were refusing to travel to Scarborough to cover shifts. Mr Proctor said there was an issue with nightshifts as consultants on nightshifts had to be put up in hotels if they lived more than 10 miles from Scarborough.
He said he didn’t think that was fair.
He added: “It’s not a question of money it’s about trying to retain and hire people. If you try to hire someone but tell them they have to spend one night in 10 away from their house it will put a lot of people off when they are not short of choices for job offers.”
He concluded his briefing to councillors by reaffirming his commitment to the town.
He said: “There is no secret plan to downgrade Scarborough Hospital, just to develop sustainable services. If a chief executive was actually devious enough to want to downgrade Scarborough Hospital they would do nothing as that is what would happen. By doing [this review] we are making a commitment.
“I’ve said to my staff ‘ask yourself if I was looking to downgrade why have I just spent £1 million on the emergency department in Scarborough’?”
Mr Proctor said was expecting news on a £30 million bid for funding for acute services later this month.