A service which was supposed to replace A&E at Hemel Hospital frequently cannot find doctors to fill its shifts, the Gazette can reveal.
Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) is the successor to the hospital’s A&E, which was shut 10 years ago.
But since January this year, 122 out of 841 GP shifts at the centre were unfilled – or one in every seven.
Edie Glatter, of the Dacorum Hospital Action Group (DHAG), said: “I was shocked to learn of the extent to which patients were being failed by a lack of GPs for shifts.
“This problem must be addressed as a matter of urgency. We need to have confidence that we can rely on the continuity of the service to provide us with emergency cover when it is required.”
While the closure of the A&E in 2009 was highly controversial, it was not the final reduction of these services at Hemel Hospital.
Initially it was replaced by an Urgent Care Centre (UCC), which was meant to replicate many A&E services whilst being open 24/7.
But in December 2016 those hours were ‘temporarily’ cut to 8am-10pm.
And last May that cut became permanent.
This week Mrs Glatter offered an olive branch.
She said: “Dacorum residents will be pleased to know that the extra services promised when the UTC hours were reduced are in place, with x-ray facilities available daily between 9am and 10pm, a DVT service available Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5pm, glucose testing, and DVT testing 9am to 5pm.”
In a joint statement, Herts Urgent Care, Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group, and West Herts Hospitals Trust, said: “The UTC has a team of experienced nurses who can treat a wide range of injuries and illnesses. If there is an occasion when there is a gap in the GP cover, they promptly seek medical help should there be cases that require review by a doctor.
“It’s important to be clear that the UTC does not turn patients away during opening hours.
“However, it does medically assess every patient who comes through the doors so that they get the most appropriate treatment. On some occasions this might involve directing people to other services such as A&E, NHS 111 or the out-of-hours service.”
They added: “Filling the GP shifts is a long-standing issue and was at the heart of the decision to reduce the opening hours in December 2016. At this time, figures showed that around one patient per hour attended the UTC between 10pm and 8am.
“In many cases, the gap in GP cover has been during an overlap so even though a shift is unfilled, there may still be a GP on site. A permanent, salaried GP has recently been appointed and so we anticipate that the number of unfilled shifts will decrease.”