THE chief executive of the trust that runs Victoria Infirmary is promising to restore the minor injuries unit to its pre-pandemic opening hours.

In an open letter to Northwich residents sent to the Guardian, James Sumner says the decision taken to cut the unit’s opening hours was ‘not taken lightly’, but current staff levels mean a full service cannot currently take place at the unit.

He adds that Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which also runs Leighton Hospital and Elmhurst in Winsford, is hoping to provide ‘an equivalent and hopefully enhanced range of services’ to what is currently offered at Victoria Infirmary in a new building in future.

It follows concern in recent weeks about the future of Victoria Infirmary after it was confirmed the shorter opening hours brought in earlier in the pandemic for the minor injuries unit would remain until April 2021.

A petition calling on the trust to restore the original opening hours and protect services at Victoria Infirmary has now attracted more than 5,240 signatures.

Below is the open letter in full

Dear Northwich residents,

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have been unable to open our Minor Injuries Unit at Victoria Infirmary to the previous opening times of 9am to 10pm, 7 days per week. The service is currently open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

I understand that this temporary reduction in opening times will create additional travel in the evenings and at weekends for those who may need treatment for a minor injury that cannot wait and apologise for this inconvenience.

I can assure you that the decision was not taken lightly; the Covid pandemic has stretched the NHS beyond anything we have seen before. Due to the continued need to run an expanded A&E department, which can care for both potential Covid-19 patients and maintain our normal emergency service, we do not have the staff numbers to do this and run a full service at Victoria Infirmary at the moment.

The Emergency Nurse Practitioners needed to provide the minor injuries services at Leighton Hospital and Victoria Infirmary are both highly trained and very experienced and therefore difficult to recruit. We are training new staff but it takes time for them to reach the levels of experience required to operate independently at Victoria Infirmary.

We are working hard to restore the service at the Minor Injuries Unit to its previous hours but that will be really hard when we must have 24/7 capacity for potential Covid patients at A&E and fewer staff to call on. But we will restore them.

In the meantime we have put in place an enhanced GP out of hours service with an additional nurse practitioner, to do as much as we can to provide additional services to the local population.

The GP out of hours service is running from 6.30pm to 10pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 6pm at the weekend with the option of speaking to a GP remotely or a home visit from 6pm to 10pm on a Saturday and Sunday.

I recognise that the need for us to temporarily reduce the hours of the minor injuries service during these unprecedented times has led people to conclude that this may be part of a wider strategy to remove services from Northwich in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic we have continued to work with partners on plans to develop a new infirmary in Northwich which would provide an equivalent and hopefully enhanced range of services to the existing infirmary but in state of the art healthcare buildings. Once we have the financial plans agreed we will be engaging with the public in Northwich to find out what you would like to see there in the future.

We are committed to Northwich and its growing population and want to offer the best possible services and experience to you, the residents.

On Monday I met with the Northwich councillors who share the same concerns about Victoria Infirmary and the services available and I discussed the details of the challenges we are continuing to face. I will continue to meet with them as your representatives, to discuss progress over the coming weeks.

On behalf of Mid Cheshire Hospitals I would like to thank you for your continued patience and understanding and also the support you have shown our NHS staff during this challenging time. It has been very much appreciated.

James Sumner,

Chief Executive