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Hospitals forced to suspend acute services due to lack of doctors and nurses, ITV News investigation finds

Hospitals in England are being forced to suspend acute services, because they don't have enough doctors and nurses, ITV News can reveal.

Sixteen trusts told us that in the past 12 months they'd had to close or suspend essential services because of insurmountable staffing problems.

The findings throw fresh doubt on the government's ability to deliver a fully seven-day NHS. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised to achieve that by 2020.

But the shutdowns ITV News can reveal should not surprise his department.

A risk assessment leaked on Monday from within the Department of Health showed ministers were warned staff shortages could jeopardise his seven-day plans.

During the row over their new contracts, junior doctors have repeatedly claimed hospitals are understaffed and struggling to cope with rising numbers of patients.

Jeremy Hunt wants to create a seven-day NHS in England. Credit: PA

ITV News asked every NHS Trust in England if, over the past 12 months, they had suspended any acute services because of a shortage of doctors or nurses to staff the service.

Sixteen trusts - one in seven of those who responded - had been forced to take such extreme measures.

Among them were:

  • Airedale NHS Trust suspended maternity services 11 times over 12 months
  • East Cheshire suspended maternity services twice and children's wards 19 times

Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex told us it has fully suspended its stroke service since April this year.

The findings also included Chorley hospital.

It has been one of the few to make national headlines after controversially downgrading its A&E when staffing reached dangerously low levels.

In a statement, NHS Improvement told ITV News

The safety of patients will always come first and where providers find that they have too few staff available to maintain a service it is right that they take steps to ensure that patients are protected.

We will continue to support providers to help make sure they can deliver safe and sustainable services to patients.

– NHS Improvement

A spokesperson for Airedale NHS Trust said: "Maternity like any acute service has significant fluctuations in demand and the complexity of the patients accessing the service.

"An escalation guideline is in place which provides clear guidance to staff on unit diversions. The diversion only occurs in the interests of maintaining patient safety."

East Cheshire NHS Trust said that its maternity and paediatrics units experience "varying levels of demand".

A spokesperson said: "On occasions when the level of activity and complexity of case mix exceeds what can be safely provided from within existing staff and bed capacity the trust has procedures in place to support alternative arrangements.

"The trust’s priority is to maintain safe standards of care at all times."