NEGATIVITY surrounding the controversial plans to downgrade Poole’s A&E and maternity services is creating problems in recruiting and retaining NHS staff, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Joint chief of Poole and Bournemouth hospitals, Debbie Fleming, admitted the detrimental impact the situation was having in an email exchange with one of the groups opposing the hospital merger, Defend Dorset NHS.

“By focusing on the negatives, all we do is create more problems in recruiting and retaining staff – and our workforce challenges are currently a greater concern to me than the financial pressures,” said Ms Fleming.

She warned that ‘things cannot stay as they are’. “Given that the Trust has a significant underlying deficit, we are in a very challenged position," she said. "Although the Dorset proposals are radical, they will allow the Poole Hospital specialities and services to continue to be provided for the local population – albeit being delivered from more than one site.

"Whilst this clearly represents major change, this is a more positive future than any other alternative, and it is one which allows the Trust’s staff to continue playing an active part in shaping that future.”

She was responding to a string of allegations from DDNHS in which Ms Monkhouse claimed patients were ‘collateral damage’ for ‘ideologically driven cuts the Government has no mandate for’. She also alleged there was no ‘relevant peer reviewed clinical research evidence’ in support of the plans. The group cited what it said was evidence from an unnamed A&E doctor.

Ms Monkhouse said this proved that: “The reconfiguration is not clinically driven, but is based on financial and staffing challenges. The solution is to address those issues.”

However, Ms Fleming responded by saying that ‘a group of clinicians – including more than one A&E consultant – has recently reviewed the higher risk cases that were cited in the Ambulance report.’

“ At the end of their review, they were all content that there would have been no detrimental impact on the patients as a consequence of potentially having had to travel slightly further for treatment,” she said.

She then said she had to give: “More credence to the views of a group of local, respected senior clinicians - taken from across the whole of Dorset, and including some from Poole Hospital – than I do to the fears expressed by an anonymous doctor, who may or may not be up-to-date with current practice."

The war of words between the hospitals and groups who oppose the merger is heating up as a Court of Appeal hearing into issues surrounding the circumstances of the decision-making looms in the next few months, and hospital chiefs continue planning for the future of the two-site service.

Ms Fleming has said she and clinicians would be happy to meet DDNHS to listen to concerns and talk about the proposals.

However, Ms Monkhouse’s group has ruled that out unless ‘there is a possibility of retaining A&E, Maternity and Paediatric services at Poole’.