A “very expensive” dedicated ambulance service used to transfer children from Pilgrim Hospital to other units has cost £100,000 a month – but health campaigners say it is a “small price to pay” for safety.
The service was brought in as part of a new interim model introduced after a warning last April that the children’s ward could close due to severe staff shortages.
A report before United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust on Tuesday said the ambulance had cost £699,628 between August 2018 and February 2019.
The total impact of the new service model for the financial year until February 2019 was £2.1 million.
A total of 1,869 patients have been assessed and treated in the new system with 203 patients transferred to other units.
Hospital trust board members decided to continue the service, but may look again in the future.
Speaking following the meeting, medical director at the trust Dr Neil Hepburn said: “It’s been a key plank of the safety, it makes a big difference if you’ve got a dedicated ambulance ready to transfer children immediately but it’s very expensive.
“As we evolve our services we’ll look at how we improve the transfer of patients between hospital sites.
“We’ve restricted the ambulance to children, you could argue we could use it for other things.
“This is a moving area and we will continually review it, but the underlying thing is we have to provide a safe service and the ambulance is a key part of that safety.”
Campaigner for SOS Pilgrim Hospital Alison Marriott said there should be no question of removing it, at least for financial reasons.
“In NHS budget terms it is a small price to pay. The millions spent on the rejected STP in its various forms over the last four years could have paid for the ambulance several times over,” she said, calling for staff to have the final say in the running of the model.
ULHT board members on Tuesday, described the interim model, as “stable but fragile” and voted to take the reports from children’s and women’s services at Pilgrim Hospital off their regular agenda.
Instead, it will be overseen at committee level.
It comes as ULHT begins to create a definitive model for the service, however, bosses say this could take another year as the recently launched Healthy Conversations gets underway.
Dr Hepburn said services needed to be integrated “across the whole community” adding: “The hospital working on its own is not the right approach. It’s stable now, so we need to reach to the community services, primary care and so on so that we provide a much better service for children and their families.
“The key is to develop the community services so that when a child is unwell, particularly children with chronic conditions, they’re able to have continual support.”
Campaigners again called for staff and the public to be consulted before any decisions are made adding there were “no short-cuts” for care.