MORE than 300 residents from West Somerset and even holidaymakers turned out in Minehead on Tuesday in a bid to get Minehead’s Minor Injury Unit reopened at night.
Health chiefs said the facility could reopen before August if staff can be recruited.
The MIU was closed overnight from 11pm to 7am on March 14.
Members from the town, district and county council offered their support at the meeting, organised by Minehead hotelier Bryan Leaker.
Staff from the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, Somerset Partnership and Dorset and Somerset Ambulance Service were on hand to take questions and explain the sudden closure.
A letter from Stephen Ladyman, Somerset Partnership’s chairman, said: “The fact is that currently an average of one patient is seen during this eighthour period in winter and an average of 1.8 patients per eight-hour period in summer months.”
Mr Leaker explained that if patients were transferred to another hospital or were seen more than once in the same day or were not seen in a room, then they were not included in the statistics.
He added: “If that’s the case why has it taken three years to temporarily close the facility?”
There was a furious outcry when bosses explained that the overnight closure was due to staffing issues elsewhere in the county.
Dr Andrew Dayani, medical director of Somerset Partnership, said: “Living in a sparsely-populated area means the intensity on services is not as great as other areas and that is the basis on which the decision was made.”
Members of the public heard how in Bridgwater, unexpected staff illnesses left nurses elsewhere rushed off their feet.
One resident said: “Why should we have to suffer because of staffing problems elsewhere? If you live in Bridgwater you are nearer to Musgrove than we are – that is a fact.”
Lucy Watson, the Clinical Commissioning Group’s director of patient safety said: “The temporary reduction in overnight opening hours at Minehead Hospital’s Minor Injury Unit by Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust was a necessary measure in order to maintain acceptable standards of service quality and safety.
“The Trust is now to recruit four more Emergency Nurse Practitioners and after securing these staff we expect the overnight service to be reinstated.
“If you have a serious or life threatening condition you would not go to the minor injuries unit.”
Mrs Watson was met with scoffs when she advised that if anyone became ill overnight after their GP surgery had closed to call the NHS telephone helpline 111.
Brian Matthews, a Minehead resident, said: “When you are feeling unwell you want reassurance and that is what you get from the MIU – not from someone at the end of the phone.
“I had to call the 111 service when I had terrible stomach pains. They diagnosed me with gastric flu but when I went to see my GP the next morning he told me I had appendicitis and I was on the operating table by 10pm that same day and told I was lucky because it was close to bursting.
“The service works well 80% of the time but we should not be overlooked the remaining 20% of the time.”
Another resident, Tracey Coles, explained how the MIU unit looked after her after she was diagnosed with a strangulated hernia early one morning until an ambulance was free to take her to Musgrove.
Mr Leaker added: “You have listened to us tonight – now go away and act.
“We won’t stop fighting. The residents of West Somerset do not deserve a healthcare lottery.
“We used to have a fantastic service and a tired hospital and now we have a fantastic hospital and a tired service.”
Mr Leaker said the campaigners will be presenting a petition to hospital bosses in due course and they have been invited to a scrutiny meeting on April 12 at West Somerset Council.