Patients could have to travel to Exeter ‘for up to six months’ due to lack of doctors

A national shortage of doctors has led to the 'temporary' cancellation of ear, nose and throat (ENT) services in North Devon.

From next month, patients will have to travel to Exeter to undergo emergency or elective inpatient care, routine outpatient appointments or day case surgery.

The ENT services routinely offered at North Devon District Hospital (NDDH)could be unavailable for up to six months.

Appointments with clinical nurse specialists; speech and language therapists and dietitians; audiology services (including hearing tests, hearing aid support and screening); oral and maxillofacial surgery; and radiology will continue to be provided at NDDH.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust said it had run a successful ENT service in North Devon for a number of years but had been unable to fill consultant vacancies.

'Not viable'

Medical director Dr George Thomson, said: "As the unit in Barnstaple is relatively small, we have been disproportionately affected by the national shortage of senior doctors in ENT and our vacancies leave us with a service that is not viable in its current form.

"It is essential that we provide a sustainable service for the population of North Devon that is both safe and of high quality.

"We have explored various alternative service models and believe the changes put in place are the best way of providing a good service for our local ENT patients.

"We wish to continue to deliver as many services as possible locally but it is inevitable that some patients will need to travel to another hospital for treatment.

"We apologise for the disruption and inconvenience these temporary changes will cause."

From February, patients will have to visit the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RD&E) for emergency and elective ENT inpatient care; suspected cancer referral appointments; head and neck surgery; and out-of-hours emergency ENT services.

Routine ENT outpatient appointments and day case surgery will be provided by the RD&E or another acute hospital in the area, depending on patient choice.

In the longer term it is hoped that ENT outpatient clinics and day case surgery will again be provided at NDDH by regular visiting surgeons from the RD&E.

However, this is dependent on the recruitment of new consultants and could take up to six months.

Dr Thomson added: "We are continuing to discuss options with the RD&E, neighbouring trusts and the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and will provide further updates as necessary."

'Erosion'

But Councillor Dick Jones, North Devon Council's portfolio holder for health and wellbeing said this was 'just another example of erosion of services provided at North Devon District Hospital'.

"I don't think it's as simple as recruitment, I think it's all about finances," he said.

"I believe the people of North Devon are not being best served by Northern Devon Healthcare Trust."

For more information, visit www.northdevonhealth.nhs.uk/services/ent